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 a 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!

EASTER-Y DEVILED EGGS

This dancing egg chick that was recently installed on the esplanade outside my office reminds me that every year around this time I get lots of visitors to the blog looking for cute deviled egg ideas for Easter — this year is no exception.  Apparently deviled eggs are not just popular in the South!  So for those of you hunting for a fun appetizer for an Easter meal, here’s the updated 2017 annual roundup of Easter-y deviled eggs.

Your family will cluck with approval at these cute little chicks from swellkid:

chickie eggs

Not handy with a piping bag?  Food & Whine shows you how to have your chicks and eat them too, without the fuss:

Use a small ice cream scoop to make these stand-up stand-out Easter chicks (Larry, Moe, and Curly) from delish:

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Or perhaps these cuties from kitchme.com:

A plateful of cute Easter critters from saveonfoods.com:

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These colorful ones from Real Mom Kitchen are sure to wow:

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Little hens and chicks from eye candy (not sure which one she made first, the hen or the chicks):

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Keep ’em guessing with deviled egg bunnies/mice from MyFudo:

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T’was the night before Easter and all through the house . . . .

Or trim radish slices to make less ambiguous bunnies, from kraftrecipes.com:

Everyone will ooh and aah at this pretty springtime presentation from Hungry Happenings:

Making deviled eggs into daisies [1]

Ditto for these showy deviled eggs from Created by Diane:

What kid could possibly resist these adorable bunny eggs from Paas?

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Another cute bunny idea (although I might leave the whiskers off) comes from PapaWow:

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And adorable bunny feet eggs from Hungry Happenings:

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A basket of deviled egg cuteness (soak celery in water to make it pliable for the handle):

deviled egg baskets

Here’s another adorable Easter basket deviled egg from Taste of Home with candy-coated sunflower seed eggs and sprouts:

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If you’d prefer something a little more reverent for Easter, you might try these carrot crosses from Happier than a Pig in Mud:

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Not deviled eggs, but here’s a few fun ways to serve hard-boiled eggs for Easter and use up those leftover dyed eggs:

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fivehearthome.com

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Gather a few giggles with these hatching eggs from Hungry Happenings:

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Here’s my own recipe for Easter Lily Deviled Eggs (I really need a better a photo).  Feel free to use your favorite recipe for deviled eggs for these or any of the ideas above.  Or try a new one — like this great-sounding one for Chipotle Cilantro Deviled Eggs from Savoury Table.

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EASTER LILY DEVILED EGGS
Print
Recipe type: Appetizers
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 dozen hard-boiled eggs
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 12 mini fillo shells (recipe developed with Athens brand)
  • Paprika (sweet or smoked), to garnish
Instructions
  1. Slice eggs in half lengthwise. Carefully remove yolks and place in a small bowl; set whites aside. Add mayonnaise and mustard to bowl, and using a fork, mash together with yolks until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Spoon or pipe yolk mixture into fillo shells. Cut triangular petals from reserved egg whites with a sharp paring knife. For each deviled egg cup, arrange 5 petals decoratively around filling, sprinkle paprika lightly over filling, and serve.

 

easter-lily[1] Happy Easter!

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.

TRUFFLED AVOCADO TOAST

One of my New Year’s resolutions, like I imagine most of my readers, was to lose weight — a resolution I believe I’ve made every year since 6th grade.  And I’ve been trying hard to keep that resolution–at least it feels like I’ve been trying hard.  I finally gave in and joined Weight Watchers for the hundredth time, except this time I promised myself that I’d try to stick to the program and not skip meetings.  It’s slow going, but at least it’s going.  If you’ve ever seen a WW ad featuring one of their success stories, you’ll notice a disclaimer at the bottom that says “results not typical.”  Well, say hello to “typical.”  My goal this year is to be “not typical.”

There are tons of WW “ambassadors” on Instagram, and they all joyously eat the rainbow, delight in ethereal baked goods made from egg whites and protein powder, and regard fat-free cheese, yogurt, and cool whip as a sort of holy trinity.  Everything they eat (and I do mean EVERYTHING) is Instagram-worthy, or at least Instagrammed.  But as I’ve learned over the years, this kind of eating tends to favor quantity over quality, is not sustainable in the real world, and is not for me.  I’ve tried a few of the products — the plasticene Velveeta slices (only 1 point!), the snack bars that taste like they’re coated in candle drippings (only 2 points!), the fat-free plain yogurt with fruit (pucker up!), and the1-point tortilla wraps that are gummy from cellulose fiber (OK, I kinda like these) — and have decided to focus instead on making healthier choices, eating smaller portions, and tracking (the bedrock of the WW plan).  And just to be clear, I will never ever accept Fat Free Cool Whip as “frosting” — that is just sadness.

So I expect that I’ll be posting some healthier recipes that fit in with what I’m trying to accomplish.  If appropriate, I’ll add the WW smart points value.  ‘Nuff said.

Avocado toast seems to be a particular favorite among not just WW devotees, but the world in general, although it seems that it is quickly being replaced by sweet potato toast (I know, not really a “toast” thing, and I can think of other ways to ruin my toaster besides running slices of sweet potato through it 4 or 5 times in a row).  Long before avocado toast starting trending, however, my parents used to make it, mashing it on toast and declaring it was “just like buttah.”

l had a small piece of a precious black winter truffle left in my fridge.  Jeanne, my “truffle pusher,” taught me that to enjoy truffles, they need a base of fat and salt.  But copious amounts of fat is kind of a no-no at the moment — and then I thought of the avocado, which is “just like buttah.”  And it worked — avocado toast with thin truffle shavings and a touch of flaky sea salt — that was one special breakfast!  Winter truffle season is over, but I may revisit this when summer truffles are available.  And for those of you without access to fresh truffles, I have confirmed that a teeny tiny drizzle of truffle oil is pretty delicious on avocado toast, as I suspect truffle salt would be as well (oh, the grueling research I conduct).  No recipe, just photos.  🙂

(6 WW smart points — 1/4 avocado (3 sp), 1 slice toasted sourdough or artisan bread (3 sp))

FUSS-FREE APPETIZERS FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS

Whether you’re entertaining a crowd, or planning a quiet night in for New Year’s Eve, here are three appetizers that are fuss-free, elegant, and always popular.

Fuss-free appetizer #1:  duck rillettes, cornichons, and french mustard

Serve with crostini. (To make crostini, slice a baguette into 1/4″ thick slices, place on baking sheet, and brush one side lightly with olive oil — bake at 350 degrees until dry and crispy).  In a pinch, you can serve with sturdy crackers.  This goes well with any kind of wine.

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Fuss-free appetizer #2: caviar, crème fraiche, and mini pancakes

The caviar is a splurge, but Costco has it this time of year at a significant savings off the regular price.  Traditionally, caviar is served with buckwheat pancakes (blini), but I couldn’t find them locally, wasn’t about to make them, and ordering them was prohibitive because they had to be shipped on ice.  But then my boss introduced me to H-E-B mini pancakes, and they are just perfect.  This goes well with champagne.

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Fuss-free appetizer #3:  cambozola and sweet crisps

Cambozola is a triple cream, brie-style blue cheese (think camembert and gorgonzola).  Sweet Crisps are sold at Corner Bakery, and are thin slices of raisin pecan bread, brushed (I assume) with butter or oil, sprinkled with coarse sugar, and baked until crispy (there are loads of “copy-cat” recipes on the interwebs).  Although cambozola is perfectly delicious on a plain ol’ cracker, it is divine on a sweet crisp.  If you are lucky enough to have a friend who sends you her homemade sour cherry jam, by all means, dab a little on top of the cheese!  This goes particularly well with red wine.

img_8683None of these appetizers will take you more than 5 minutes to put together, and I promise you, they will disappear almost as quickly.