GREEK SALAD

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I found this Brownie Girl Scout Beanie at an estate sale.  I was a Brownie, and my daughter was a Brownie, and we both just could not get excited about being Brownies.  Maybe it was the hat, described as “a  six section beanie with loop at top.”  The Girl Scouts website states that it is made of “rayon/wool felt,” immediately followed by the statement that it is made of “100% polyester felt.”  So confusing, but really, it doesn’t matter — it could be made of cashmere and it would still look goofy.  The little dancing figure on it always looked vaguely satanic to me:

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Current beanies have blue figures, which look less sinister:

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My kids attended a middle school that was housed in a Greek Orthodox Church.  One day when I was picking up my son, a Brownie scout walked by.  My son pointed to her and said, “Look, she has a baklava on her head!”  He had recently been to a bar mitzvah, and meant to say she had a yarmulke on her head, but given that we were in front of the Greek church, confusing a Greek pastry with a Jewish skullcap was understandable and smirk-worthy.

Inspired by the Brownie beanie and Greek middle school memories, I made a Greek salad.  I believe purists would argue that a real Greek salad does not have lettuce, but I am neither Greek nor a purist, and I kinda like it with lettuce.  Some people like to add anchovies, but as I’ve mentioned before, we think they look like eyebrows and don’t add them to anything.  But really, it’s all about the dressing.  I’ve included photos for two different ways to prepare it, as a tossed salad and as a composed salad.  As with any vegetable salad, you can adjust the ingredients and amounts to suit your tastes.

GREEK SALAD
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Recipe type: Salad
Author:
Ingredients
  • For dressing:
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ⅓ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • For salad:
  • 1 large head romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 12 grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced into ¼" thick slices
  • 1 small red or green bell pepper (optional), sliced into ¼" rings
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 12 Kalamata olives, pitted
  • 12 pepperoncini
  • Optional salad ingredients -- sliced celery, capers, sliced radishes
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Instructions
  1. Place all dressing ingredients in a jar, and shake vigorously to combine. Place in refrigerator for at least 1 hour before using.
  2. Place all salad ingredients except feta cheese in a large bowl and toss to combine. (Note: All salad ingredient measurements are approximate -- vary amounts as desired.) Pour dressing in desired amount over salad and toss to combine. Sprinkle with feta cheese and serve. (This salad is especially nice served on chilled plates.)

 

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It’s all about the dressing

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Just lettuce eat our Greek salad

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Prepare it as a composed salad, but only if you like the sound of oohs and ahs

WEEKEND IN AUSTIN

Last weekend I went to Austin with my husband, son, and son’s girlfriend for Austin City Limits, a music festival stretching over two weekends.  I just went along for the ride and to keep the peace, if necessary, because I’m pretty much done with music festivals.  The last one I went to was Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid when I first started law school. The concert was in an open field in the middle of July, which is the second worst month for an outdoor activity in Texas, August being the worst.  My nursing friends came up for the concert, and without going into detail, I’ll just say they behaved very badly.  I haven’t seen them or been to a music festival since.

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Austin, located on the shores of Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake), which was the closest hotel to the festival.  We usually stay downtown when in Austin, but I have to say, the Hyatt worked out great — comfortable rooms, pretty lakeside views, and easy self-parking.

The festival was, of course, the highlight of the weekend.  But we also had a great time dining in Austin.  There has been an explosion of restaurants in recent years, and we hit some old favorites and what are certain to become new favorites.

First stop was Chuy’s, en route to the festival.  The Mexican restaurant hasn’t changed since my law school days, and was as tasty and gut-busting as I remembered:

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Another old favorite (of more recent vintage) that we visited, at my son’s request, was Hopdoddy, which I’ve written about before.  Not much more to say, other than that we love Hopdoddy.

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Looking for a place to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee, we stumbled upon Cenote, in East Austin, an area that has been undergoing an exciting revitalization.  Cenote is located in a historic house, built in 1887.  We were charmed by its patio, friendly service, and excellent coffee.

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While the kids were chowing down on food truck fare at the festival, my husband and I enjoyed a fantastic meal at Emmer & Rye, located on Rainey Street, an area described by Texas Monthly as being filled with “hot bars and restaurants, a massive amount of construction, and a whole lot of hip young people.”

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The restaurant has an attractive patio, which was packed on this pleasant evening:

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The interior space was equally inviting:

Emmer & Rye focuses on seasonal and local cuisine, and boasts that it mills “heritage grains” for its pastas, breads, and desserts.  Along with the menu items, there are dim sum style rolling carts with daily specials to choose from.  Here’s Tom, our “dim sum guy”:

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We selected a few dishes from the cart (and believe me, it was really hard to pass up every other dish that rolled by), including the excellent beef tartare:

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From the menu, we had the very rich cacio e pepe:

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Confited short rib carnitas with corn, kohlrabi, chilis, salsa rosada, and flaky roti to tuck it into:

And the dish I cannot get out of my head, grilled butternut squash with deliciously creamy and pungent ome camembert, mesquite vinegar, pecans, and puffed sorghum.  This dish was so much more than the sum of its parts:

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We ended with a simple-looking but complex-sounding and tasting cocoa bean ice cream sandwich with white sonoran koji cookie and mesquite caramel:

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But wait, there’s more!

The next morning, before we headed home, we had brunch at Jacoby’s, a “transparent, value driven, vertically integrated, ranch-to-table dining experience located in East Austin on the Colorado River.”  That’s a mouthful!

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Come hungry for the hearty brunch offerings.  My gang chowed down on Duck Confit Migas:img_8468 3 Little Pigs Sandwich, piled with crispy schnitzel, shaved ham, bacon, and a fried egg:

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And Chicken Fried Steak & Waffles with Sausage Gravy and Maple Syrup:
img_8471We waddled out of Jacoby’s, stuffed ourselves into the car, and made one last non-food stop before getting on the road — East Austin Succulents, a sort of magical, if kinda prickly, plant nursery my husband discovered on a recent visit.

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If you are into plants, and really, even someone with a brown thumb should be able to grow a succulent or cactus, then you’ll love this place.

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You’ll find whimsical arrangements:

Beautiful rocks sold by the pound, for your garden and containers:

And, of course, tons of cacti and succulents:

They even had a few of my favorite spineless totem pole cactus (although the child in us refers to them by another name):

img_8491We headed home, our trunk filled with plants, and our hearts filled with memories of a wonderful — make that, really wonderful — fall weekend getaway.

HALLOWEEN DEVILED EGGS — MERRY TO MACABRE

Who says deviled eggs are just for Easter?  They’re also fun to dress up for Halloween — cute or creepy, your pick!  Get inspired by this updated annual roundup of Halloween deviled eggs, from the merry to the macabre.

Who could resist a cute little pumpkin deviled egg, like these from Tadka Pasta?

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Too generic?  How about a grinning Jack O’ Lantern, like these from Ochikeron’s You Tube channel:

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Or these from Happier Than A Pig In Mud:

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Who wouldn’t get a kick out of these owl deviled eggs from Maker, Baker, Glitter Shaker?  Hoo?  Hoo?

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Spider deviled eggs are cute without being too creepy, like these black olive ones from The World According To Eggface:

halloween1And these green olive ones from Momtastic:

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Of course, you CAN make them creepy, like this albino black widow spider deviled egg found on Hairpin:

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If you’re going to have spiders, you might as well have spider webs, like these from health-actually.com:halloween7

Food Planet kicks spider web eggs up a notch with a bright green filling;

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Devil horns are an easy way to dress up deviled eggs for Halloween, like these from Cookin’ Canuck:

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You can have lots of fun coming up with devilish little faces on your deviled eggs, like these from So Lovely Sweet Tables:

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Or these amusing little devils from Kraft:

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Skeleton deviled eggs from Thrifty Fun are a scream:

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It wouldn’t be Halloween without some eyeballs, like these from Kath’s Kitchen Sync:

halloween4  Or these zombie eyeballs from Happier Than A Pig In Mud:

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Or next level creepy with piped on capillaries from Mom Foodie:

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These black and orange eggs from aol.com/food might be too scary for some people:

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These red ones found on Homemade Recipes puts the devil in deviled eggs:

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Deviled eggs make cute ghosts in a graveyard, from Chef Morgan:

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These green goblin eggs from Betty Crocker are pretty scary:

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But nothing could possibly be creepier (or less likely to be eaten) than these Satan’s Spawn deviled eggs from Kravings.blog.  Nothing.  Ever.

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Happy Halloween!

P.S.  Do you know why ghosts don’t like it to rain on Halloween?  It dampens their spirits!

FREEKEH WITH FARFALLE AND MUSHROOMS

September is National Whole Grains Month — a great time to sample new grains and cook with old favorites.  So when Freekehlicious offered to send me some freekeh to try, I gladly accepted.

According to information Freekehlicious provided, freekeh is an ancient grain, with a lot of healthful qualities.  The roasted wheat is harvested while it’s young and green, then parched, roasted, and dried.  “Freekeh” means “to rub” in Aramaic, which refers to the method by which freekeh is made.

Nutritionally, freekeh is low on the glycemic index, and high in fiber, protein, and calcium.  It cooks much like rice, but is lower in carbs than brown rice.  A serving of freekeh (42 grams) provides, among other things, 150 calories, 6 grams of dietary fiber, 6 grams of protein, and 25 milligrams of calcium.  An added bonus is that it has prebiotic properties, which aid in digestion.

Freekeh is available two ways — whole grain and cracked:

I chose to try the cracked freekeh first:

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I followed the package directions, cooking 1/2 cup of freekeh in 1-1/2 cups of water for 20 minutes.  The freekeh cooked up plump and fluffy:

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I used the cooked freekeh to make Freekeh with Farfalle and Mushrooms, which is a riff on Kasha Varnishkes, a dish my parents used to make using kasha, also known as buckwheat groats.  With the addition of the sautéed onions and mushrooms, the freekeh was a filling and toothsome side dish, an excellent accompaniment to the grilled sausages we had that night.

This month, why not let your freekeh flag fly!

FREEKEH WITH FARFALLE AND MUSHROOMS
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Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ cup cracked freekeh
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup cooked mini farfalle
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Place freekeh and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for approximately 20 minutes, until water is absorbed and freekeh is tender.
  2. Heat oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until golden. Add mushrooms, and continue cooking until mushrooms are tender. Stir in cooked freekeh, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

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ROOSTAR VIETNAMESE GRILL

I’ve heard a lot about Roostar Vietnamese Grill lately, and after visiting the restaurant recently, I can see what all the fuss is about.roostar

Roostar is located at 1411 Gessner Road — a part of Spring Branch sometimes referred to as Koreatown — in a small retail center that also houses Flower Piggy Korean BBQ and La Michoacana Meat Market.  (Roostar is opening a second location soon, near the Galleria area.)

Roostar’s logo was designed to reflect the French influence on Vietnam, and the owners’ love for Texas — the rooster is the unofficial symbol of France, and the star that is the rooster’s comb is a nod to the Lone Star State.  The rooster “is drawn in flame-like strokes and colored with burning reds, symbolizing the passion and energy” that goes into each of Roostar’s dishes.

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The first thing you will notice upon entering the tidy little restaurant is Linda, who owns and operates Roostar with her husband Ronnie.  And the next thing you will notice is how pretty Linda is, like movie-star pretty:

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And the next thing you’ll notice is how hard Linda works to make sure that each customer is treated respectfully and thoughtfully — whether explaining the menu, offering a sample, filling glasses, or rearranging chairs to accomodate diners.  You’ll also see a lot of activity going on behind her, as employees hustle to fill orders:

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The menu is simple, with lots of options to customize your meal:

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One of Roostar’s most popular offerings is its banh mi, frequently referred to as the best in Houston (Roostar won the 2015 People’s Choice Award during Houston’s The Great Banh Mi Cook-Off, and will be defending its title this fall).  The sandwich, which is on a French baguette, has its origins in the  period when France occupied Vietnam,  There are several grilled meats to choose from, along with smoked ham, avocado, fried egg, and smoked salmon.  They’re made with traditional ingredients that include house-made garlic aioli, pickled carrots, cilantro, jalapenos, cucumbers, and soy sauce.  You can add avocado, egg, pate, or extra meat to any sandwich for a modest charge.  We tried a grilled pork banh mi.  The quality of the meat (not too fatty, smoky, slightly sweet) and the homemade aioli really made this sandwich a standout:

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We also tried a box.  The concept of the boxes reminded me of Chipotle’s ordering system, and is very user-friendly, especially for people not familiar with Vietnamese noodle and rice bowls.  First you select a meat (grilled pork, grilled chicken, tofu, chopped ribeye, or wings).  Next, choose your base (noodles, salad, white or fried rice).  All boxes come with a spring roll, lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, green onions, cilantro, fried garlic, and vinaigrette dressing.  You can add avocado, egg, extra meat, or additional eggrolls for a modest charge.  We went with the vermicelli with grilled pork:

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The vermicelli box was fresh and filling, a delicious and satisfying lunch, particularly on a hot day like we’ve been having here.

Last, but not least, we tried the Beef Alphabet soup.  This was unlike any soup I’ve ever had before, and it’s garnered raves from everyone who has tried it.  It’s a salty, savory, umami-loaded bowl with finely chopped beef, alphabet pasta, cilantro, and secret spices. It’s served with house-made chili oil — be sure to add some.  This soup was out of this world.  If Roostar was closer to my home, I’d probably be having this soup at least 3 times a week.

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Photo courtesy of Cuc Lam

While you’re there, treat yourself to a thai tea, milk tea, or iced coffee — they’re all great, rich with sweetened condensed milk, but so worth the calories.

We all loved Roostar Vietnamese Grill.  I have no doubt you will too!

SOUTHERN POTLUCK BAKED BEANS

I found this funny little vase at an estate sale:

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It was made by Fitz & Floyd in MCMLXXVII (too lazy to figure it out myself, I discovered an online site — of course — that will convert Roman numerals to Arabic numerals, which said it’s 1977):IMG_7606

This little guy looks like my dogs feel on the 4th of July when the fireworks start:

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How are you celebrating the 4th of July?  Food, fun, family, fireworks — the 4 best f-words around, right?  I saw lots of patriotic efforts around town, big and small.  There were small little flags tucked into gardens:

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And big flags waving proudly in yards:

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What did one flag say to the other?  Nothing, it just waved.

Trees were lit up in red, white, and blue at this downtown office building:

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And the big red cock at BRC Restaurant (I know, I hate the name too), was painted with stars and stripes.

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I found a few new treats for this patriotic holiday, including red, white, and blue Rice Krispies (I’d love to show you the Rice Krispie Treats I made with them, but they disappeared too quickly, so you’ll have to use your imagination.  Like Spongebob):

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Trader Joe’s had this White House cookie kit (maybe for the next presidential election — not feeling it for this one):

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And these Shooting Stars Cookies, which are made with pop rocks, and according to the Trader Joe’s staff, are quite a party all by themselves:

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Walmart had bouquets of red, white, and blue flowers (dog not included):

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I wouldn’t normally buy dyed flowers, but they looked kinda desperate to go home with someone — anyone — so I broke down and bought a bunch.  Not only were these dyed, but they were sprayed with glitter, as well.  Shaking my head.

Inspired by the cannon vase and thoughts of Independence Day, I’m sharing a recipe for Southern Potluck Baked Beans, adapted from the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Quick Southern-Style Baked Beans, and a great side dish for your 4th of July barbecue. I think every Southern cook has some version of this in her repertoire, or at least in her Junior League cookbooks.  There was a time when I might have scoffed at the idea of making baked beans by starting with cans of baked beans — seems kind of redundant.  But the amped-up flavor from the additional ingredients and thick texture that comes from baking for two hours make these a special side dish to bring to any potluck, especially one where grilling is involved.

SOUTHERN POTLUCK BAKED BEANS
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Recipe type: Vegetable
Author:
Ingredients
  • 8 slices bacon, cut in half
  • 3 28-ounce cans pork 'n beans
  • ¾ cup barbecue sauce (I used this one, and recommend you do too)
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat until bacon is partially cooked and has rendered some of the fat. Remove bacon to paper-towel lined plate, and reserve 1 tablespoon of drippings. Place beans in a large bowl. Add barbecue sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, dry mustard, and 1 tablespoon bacon drippings, and mix until thoroughly combined. Transfer beans to a 9 x 13 baking dish. Arrange bacon over top. Bake until sauce is thick and syrupy, approximately 2 hours. Remove from oven and allow to stand approximately 15 minutes before serving.

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Ready for a two-hour stint in the oven

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Smoky, syrupy, sweet, tangy — baked beans will never be the same

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Have a blast this 4th of July!

 

HIMALAYA RESTAURANT AND SUBHLAXMI GROCERS

At the intersection of Hillcroft Ave and U.S. 59, is a small shopping center housing several of Houston’s ethnic treasures.  This center is located at the edge of the Mahatma Gandhi District, officially named in 2010.  The area is filled with Indian and Pakistani establishments — mainly clothing and jewelry stores, restaurants and bakeries, and grocers.

Recently, we’ve made several visits to Himalaya Restaurant, which features some of the best Indian and Pakistani cuisine in Houston (Anthony Bourdain dined there on his visit to Houston this month).

IMG_7463Inside, the restaurant is modest and tidy, its walls filled with glowing articles about the restaurant:

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Chef/owner Kaiser Lashkari is usually visible, chatting with diners, offering menu suggestions, and boasting (rightfully) about his food:

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Our favorite dishes at Himalaya are rich and complex, full of spice and heat.  Among those we enjoyed are Aloo Chana Masala (chickpeas and potatoes simmered in curry sauce):

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Paneer Hara Masala (the restaurant’s “signature vegetarian dish”):

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The Chicken Kabab Platter, which has 2 skewers of Chicken Seekh Kebab and 4 pieces of Chicken Tikka Boti Kebab (our favorite of the two):

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And the Spicy Rocket Nan (be prepared to fight over the last piece of this):

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Other dishes we liked included Chicken Tikka Masala (my son’s favorite):

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Chicken Biryani:

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An appetizer of Vegetable Samosas:

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And Baigan Bharta, a vegetarian dish made with eggplant:

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We also tried the popular Hunter’s Beef, a Pakistani-style beef pastrami, which was chopped, sauteed in butter and spices, and served with chopped tomatoes and magic mustard sauce, which was interesting:

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In addition to the great food, another plus is that the restaurant is BYOB (provided each diner orders an entree and a nan).

On a recent visit, we waddled out of the restaurant, bellies full and mouths on fire, over to Subhlaxmi Grocers, located in the same center.

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I’d been wanting to go there for some time to see if they had the Indian or Persian basmati rice I’ve been searching for, which of course, they did:

This is unlike the basmati rice commonly available at grocery stores.  Indian and Pakistani basmati rice, I’ve learned, is aged at least a year.  The aging process dehydrates the rice, and when the rice is cooked, it expands much more than rice that hasn’t been aged.  If you’ve eaten in Persian or Indian restaurants, you’ve no doubt noticed the extra-long rice (like in the Chicken Biryani pictured above).

The store was filled with all kinds of things — produce, spices, beans, condiments, sweets — many of which I’d never seen before, such as:

I came home with lots of bottles and packages of new things to try — white poppy seeds, dried limes, pickled cut mango — and stocked up on spices, and that aged Basmati rice.  My mind is racing thinking of the Indian and Pakistani specialties I can try my hand at, although I’m pretty sure I don’t have to worry about Anthony Bourdain dropping in for dinner.  I’m looking forward to exploring other establishments in the Mahatma Gandhi District, especially some of the bakeries.