Saturday Night at Brisa

(Cross-posted on the Houston Chowhounds board because I know a fair amount of people picked up those Restaurant.com gift certificates.)

On Saturday night my husband and I finally decided to give Brisa a try. They have plastered more menus on our car windshield than we can count and Restaurant.com had a listing for them on their site. Taking advantage of the opportunity, we purchased a $25.00 gift certificate to the restaurant at a discount.

We arrived at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday night. There were seven tables occupied out of about 25 (not counting bar seating, where I swear I saw a tumbleweed roll through), mostly two tops. You could see into the kitchen beyond some glass and everyone was standing around back there, unoccupied. In short, the restaurant was not busy at all.

When we arrived, the hostess passed the menu onto our server, and we were instructed to sit anywhere we wanted. We sat ourselves and wanting to avoid any problems when presented the bill, I asked if we could use the Restaurant.com gift certificate towards alcoholic drinks. Our server, I believe his name was Ronny, said he would check with his manager. He returned a few moments later saying “I have some bad news. The manager said we don’t take these.” I asked him to bring the manager over, wondering why the manager didn’t advise us of this himself. Daniel arrived at our table and reiterated that he could not accept the gift certificate. I asked why and he launched into a story that changed a few times. He repeated several times that it was out of his hands and that the owners were having problems with Restaurant.com. He said that they “cancelled their agreement with Restaurant.com six months ago” which I found hard to believe since the restaurant has only been open since May (that would be four months for anyone counting). Then towards the end of the conversation he said that they had been having problems with Restaurant.com for ‘a while now’ and then ‘a month’ popped up somewhere in there too. He also seemed to imply that we bought the certificate a while ago and were now just trying to honor it. I drew his attention to the date printed on the certificate and also told him that they were about to get inundated with these certificates due to the big sale Restaurant.com had on them.

He asked us if there was anything he could do to which my husband, irritated after listening to an ever changing story, retorted that he could honor the gift certificate we bought just last week. Daniel said he could offer us a free appetizer or dessert and at that point I thanked him, but said politely that we would leave. It had the feeling of a bait and switch operation, especially since Daniel’s story kept changing the longer we talked to him. I’m sure it truly was out of his hands, but the whole thing just seemed shady. I didn’t want to patronize a place where I felt that we were being taken advantage of or not being told the whole truth, even if it was ‘the public’s version’ of the whole truth.

At that point Daniel said he would honor the gift certificate and he apologized profusely for all the problems. He said he would still give us an appetizer or dessert for free. We thanked him and set about to ordering our meal.

We asked our server for chips and salsa (to which he replied: ‘we only bring it out if you ask, and you just asked… so… I’ll bring it out’ Uh, thanks!)

For an appetizer we got the cheese ‘tortilla’ stuffed with beef. Husband enjoyed this but I found the cheese wrapping kind of tough. The skirt/flank steak was tender and well seasoned though. The guacamole perched on top of lettuce was tasty too.

For an entree I got the chile relleno and Husband got the Gulf red snapper fillet, recommended by our server.

(Chile picture did not turn out)

Fish:

Husband enjoyed his fish and said the sauce on top of it was quite good. However, the beef in the poblano chile was terrible. It tasted old and was loaded with lard (I think?) that tasted almost rancid. The upside was that all the sauces/salsas were delicious, especially their tomatillo sauce and what I think was an ancho sauce on my plate– the server didn’t know, said he thought it was a chipotle sauce but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. Beans and rice were unremarkable.

When the bill came, Daniel came back out with a business card and explained that he couldn’t offer us our free appetizer because that would reduce the total bill below $50, which is what we had to spend in order to use the certificate. He presented the business card to us with a handwritten note that our next app/dessert would be comped for us when we returned. We thanked him and didn’t complain because that was what the fine print said on the coupon, but goodness. You’d think he would try to focus more on making our visit NOW good than our next one…?

Given the hassle it was to use our certificate, the attitude of the manager, and the hit or miss entrees, we won’t be returning any time soon. Our server was spot on and wonderful, but I need more than a nice server to get me back to a restaurant. The same goes for chips and salsa. I think the only reason our gift certificate was even honored was because it was a graveyard there that night. Better to have $25 come through the door (plus tip) than nothing at all I guess. Too bad it won’t be coming back.

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Houston Chowhounds’ Pork Belly Throwdown

On August 14, 2009 the Houston Chowhounds got porked. Twelve chefs from the Houston area came together to find out who could take a slab of pork belly and transform it into further greatness.

The challenge for Chowhounds (besides eating all that pork) was to turn out the best pot of beans.

The event was held at Catalan and the crowds came out.

Some dressed to turn a head, others wearing wife beaters that said ‘I [heart] pork belly.’

All types make for a happy event
especially when the food is outstanding.

The top three choices from the judges for pork belly:
Cody Vasek of Voice with pork four ways
Randy Evans of Brennan’s with a pork torta
and Manubu Horiuchi and Jean-Phillipe Gaston of Kata Robata with pork three ways.

See, us Chowhounds know how to have fun. Four ways and three ways are what its all about.

On the beans side
Karen Rittinger took home first place for Fabada Asturiada.

Some pictures from the event:

Red velvet cupcakes from Jody Flood.

These were great, and I’m not even a huge cake eater.
(Making them is another story.)
Jody also does vegan and gluten free cakes and is a lovely, lovely person.

My plate. The salad was great.
(Seriously!)
From Cullen’s I believe.

Dessert from Chez Roux.

Inside Catalan.

Contestants being their beany selves.

Tasty bread and snackables.

Like I said; we know how to have fun.
Sometimes this means getting a little dirty.

Winning beans.
Loved the presentation.

Judges and some luckly Chowhounds who secured a spot next to the judges’ table for leftovers.

You need good wine to go with pork belly and beans
and good wine there was.

Next throwdown involves oysters prepared by the professional chefs.

I’m lobbing for #okra for the Chowhound side
although there are a few haters out there who might swing the vote.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Eating Alone

I was browsing over at SeriousEats during my lunch
as is my usual Monday-Friday routine
when I started reading a thread on what people eat when they eat alone.

At first I thought it was silly
‘of course I would just eat leftovers’
and then I got to thinking
and in reality
I usually don’t eat leftovers when I eat alone.

My favorite meal for one is chicken and rice.
Not chicken and rice with garlic, spices, and a salad
but a chicken breast roasted with seasoned salt and freshly cracked pepper
with some chicken broth added in during the last half of roasting
then when it’s ready
the chicken gets shredded and unceremoniously dumped over steaming white rice with the broth.

That’s my meal for just me.

I find myself eating cereal a lot too
or just Triscuits and cheese.

This week I’ve had cereal two days in a row.
The first time it was because Hub was on call and I didn’t feel like cooking
and the second time was because I just used up all my energy trying to work out an argument.

I felt that if I cooked anything it might end up with only the hottest spices in the house
topped off with a splash of HATRED and ANGER.

So cornflakes and whole milk it was.
It seemed safer that way.

Last night I did start making watermelon sorbet though
and will finish it tonight.

I can’t promise there won’t be cayenne in it
but it actually might be better that way.

I’ve done some heavy duty cooking this week
and this weekend will be much of the same.

I made macarons for the first time last week
thanks to a recipe from this guy.

They turned out beautifully
and they are slated to be made this weekend again
because Hub and I ate every last one of them the same day they were made.

Playing around with fillings will be the project this time around
I have a few Rose Levy Beranbaum recipes lined up
Nutella in the pantry
and home-made jam in the fridge.

The jam was a gift from a coworker
because, sadly, I have not yet marched into preserving territory.
I do have a book on it
but the fear of inadvertently poisoning myself and Hub has not yet dissipated
so fun and games with with berries, cucumbers, tomatoes, chiles…
(you get the picture)
will have to wait.

Also on the list for this weekend is finding what to do with the rest of the watermelon I have.

Our CSA delivered it to us right before July 4th
and half of it went into the sorbet.

The other half is sitting in my fridge
laughing at me.

It’s been quite meloney at our house lately.

We got cantaloupe in our CSA delivery this week
and I think that is going to go with some cured ham of some sort
since I’ve actually never paired it with that.

My favorite way to eat it is with super cold cottage cheese
(why yes, that has been an alone meal)
but I’m trying to branch out here.

I might as well get through the tried and true combos
that way when I want to get WILD AND CRAZY
I’ll have some sort of foundation on which to build.

That has been my mission lately:
to try out the classics.

I feel like I read about them so much
and see how people play with them
but when I get to thinking about it
I realize how much I haven’t tried
and that’s simply unacceptable.

Lately my weekends have turned into project-cooking-time
and the projects recently have been classic recipes and pairings.

Seeing as that has resulted in things like macarons, stuffed squash blossoms, and progressively better stock
I think I shall continue the trend.

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Meal Plans and Easter Dinner Musings

Well, our CSA has decided to start delivering to us TWICE a week
but I don’t think they are aware of the fact yet.

As much as I love strawberries and green beans
I can’t go through that much in a week
and uh
I’ve only paid for half of what theyre sending me.

So I guess I need to be a good person and call them to let them know theyre delivering to use twice in a week.

I now have more lettuce than I know what to do with
(four heads!)
and even though I made a dent in the green beans last night
I’m back up to my orginal bumper crop in the refrigerator.

Siiiiiiigh.

I did use some strawberries last night though.
I diced them up and ate them with some panna cotta.

I’ve been playing around with recipes for panna cotta
and like the one I’m working with now.

It’s from Cook’s Illustrated
just a simple vanilla one
but I’d like to take it up another notch and make it a strawberry panna cotta
served with some candied fruit
and a berry coulis.

Goodness knows I have enough strawberries now.

With all of this food in my fridge
I need to stay on top and FOLLOW my meal plans.

I’m usually pretty good about sticking to them
but need to really use up food this week.

Here’s the list so far:

Thursday: Shredded Rasperry-Chipotle Chicken over green leaf salad with walnut oil and parmesan vinaigrette
Friday: Red Potato Soup and Mustard Greans
Saturday: Hot Paprika Chicken Breasts with Collard Greens and Golden Raisins

Sunday: Prime New York Strip Steak with Creamed Spinach and Potato Gratin
Monday: Braised Oxtails over Polenta
Tuesday: Roast Chicken with Mashed Carrots, Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Garden Salads (sometimes I like to do a big meal in the middle of the week for no reason)
Wednesday: Chicken Salad Croissant Sandwiches with pickles and potato chips (easy peasy)
Thursday: Friend’s birthday dinner!
Friday: Veg. leftovers
Saturday: Lentil Soup with Cornbread

Still no idea what the Easter meal is looking like.

Husband will be on call at the hospital all night on Saturday
so he will be a useless lump sleeping in bed on Easter Sunday.

Boo.
Maybe I will make ham just to spite him.

I love a spiral sliced ham with super tender lima beans and my grandmother’s recipe for ‘Pineapple’ (pineapple chunks in thickend syrup).
It brings back sweet memories.

Husband
on the other hand
does not like spiral sliced ham
so we usually do a leg of lamb
(HA i typed lamp. I love lamp)
prime rib
or a red meat that we both can agree on.

I should just say NYAH to him this year and do it
or just hop on over to my aunt’s house and eat dinner there
while husband sleeps the day away.

She’ll probably be making ham anyways. heh.

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Of Cabbages and… Cabbages.

Between two jobs, two blogs, two dogs, and one husband, I just don’t get around here enough.

I’ve started Twittering
along with the rest of the world
and have been trying to document what I make for dinner ever day.

I would do lunch too
but taking a picture of a Lean Cuisine every day would be a little depressing.

So instead
I take bad iPhone pictures of my dinner
none of which want to post to my entry
so I’m going to stop trying.

Last night dinner involved white rice
something I try to eat in moderation
but I’m ashamed to admit that dinner tonight also involved white rice.

BUT
there are no photographs, not even on Twitter
so we can all pretend like it never happened.

It was red beans and rice with tomatoes and balsamic vinegar if you’re wondering.
Complete white trash cooking
but delicious.

Brown up some 80/20 ground chuck
season with garlic and good ol’ Lawry’s seasoned salt
dump in a can of red beans with a little bit of water
let reduce for a few minutes
and spoon over white rice.

Top with sliced tomatoes and balsamic vinegar and then go sit out on your front lawn with a wife beater on.

Tasty as it is
I think it could be better.

I was thinking about the tomatoes today
and how they are my favorite part of the dish.
Right now
tomatoes obviously are not at their peak
but perhaps I could elevate this dish to a slightly higher socioeconomic status by making a tomato confit and a reducing the balsamic vinegar down to a glaze.

Then
maybe replace the ground beef with braised beef
(oxtails, perhaps? I like this dish a little bit on the fattier side since it tastes like sawdust if a low fat cut of meat is used)
and use long simmered red beans instead of my salted friends out of a can.

Ideas, ideas.
I probably will just stick to my regular recipe until I finally get so ashamed of it I’m forced into making something better.
This probably won’t happen for a while.

In other news
on Friday at Restaurant Job
Chef said that we would be taking part in Outstanding In the Field.

My face nearly cracked in two because I smiled so big
and Sous Chef was ecstatic as well.

Chef said he would need our help
and we both told him we would be there in full force.

Its not until September
but I’m still so stupidly excited.

It will be fun to work at such an amazing event.
I’m trying to do my part to eat more local food
although I’ve been taking baby steps.

We did join a CSA for our fruits and vegetables though
and its been an adventure.

Our first delivery in January looked like this:

and our weekly deliveries have been some variation on that theme so far.

We’re getting greenbeans and lettuces now though
which make me happy.

I’ve meant to photograph our deliveries every week
but that hasn’t happened.

Those personal failures aside
joining the CSA was a wonderful decision.
The farm is a little bit spotty on regular delivery
but its nothing that messes with meal planning too much.

Food is fresh and unblemished/unbruised for the most part
and it averages out to about 20$ a week
a great price for the load of food that arrives at our front door every Wednesday(ish).

However
I might PAY someone to take all the cabbage we’ve been getting.

I’ve forced unwanted heads on people at Job 1, Job 2, and the next person in line is going to be the guy panhandling on the street.

Guy: “Homeless, hungry, anything will help
Me: “HERE! Take a head of cabbage!”
Guy: “What am I supposed to do with this?
Me: “I DONT KNOW. I’ve been asking myself the SAME DAMNED THING.”

Husband started looking at me with a pained expression
when week after week
he would open up our box and find one
or even TWO
heads of cabbage in it.

I finally called the farm and asked them just to leave it out of our box
not replace it with anything else
just leave the blasted cabbage in someone ELSE’S delivery.

I think I’ve done everything legal in Texas to a head of cabbage now.
Next, I think I am just going to candy it or stick it in my ice cream maker and see what happens.

I can’t imagine that would be anything good
but you never know.

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Daring Baker’s Challenges – September and October

This is my second month doing the Daring Baker’s Challenge.

The first month was muddled up by Ike, but hey, I DID manage to get two dips for the crackers done:

A spicy olive and caper tapenade
and a dried fruit compote
both vegan.
I never did get to the crackers
so we’ve eaten the dips with Triscuits.

I have a feeling they would have been better with September’s challenge
which was lavash crackers.

Still, Triscuits performed admirably.

They dips are are both out of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.

October’s challenge was “Pizza Napoletana” from Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.”

I already have a go-to pizza recipe
so I was not too thrilled about this
especially since I was hoping for a sweet challenge
but I gave it a go.

Maybe my go wasn’t good enough
because while everyone else who made this recipe raved about it
I was not impressed.

I’m pretty sure I have only myself to blame
and I’m sure I will try this recipe again
because I do like thin crust pizza.

Mine was just TOO thin
and didn’t crisp up in the middle.

I got busy baking before I started taking pictures
so no mise en place for you.

Also it was dark outside
and the lighting in my tiny kitchen is pretty bad
so the pictures are what they are.
SIGH.

On with the show.

Dough in the mixer:

Properly pulled away from the sides
and still attached to the bottom
per the instructions:

Blob ready for splitting:

Asexual reproduction, RIGHT ON MY COUNTERTOP:

I put them in the fridge for an overnight rise
and the next day Husband took them out and flattened two for me for dinner that night
(maybe I can blame the less than impressive pizza’s on his hand in the whole thing…)

The rested there for two hours
and then it was time to stretch them out.
We were supposed to toss them
but that was not happening with this dough.

Instead I carefully stretched it
and no matter how hard I tried
it still had holes

I pinched them shut
and no one was the wiser
except for all you people on the internet now.

We’re old fashioned here in our household
so it was just reg’lar pepperoni pizzas

I shredded ball mozzarella on top of the sauce
for which I used a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.

(Note to self: try to find pepperoni without so much dye in it. Probably not good for the health to eat this much red dye.)

I previously cranked up my oven to 550F
(or so I THOUGHT!)
and my pizza stone had been in there for at least half an hour too.

After about 8 minutes in the oven
THIS emerged

The outer crust was great
it was just too thin in the middle
with no crunch.

I think next time I will just have to make them thicker in the middle.

Pizza No. 2 came out the same way as the first
so for kicks I threw my oven thermometer in the oven to see if it was really reaching 550F.

The answer was HELL NO.
It was only about 450F
so this probably did not help my uncripsy pizza.

The moisture content from the ball mozzarella probably didn’t help either.

Again
I think the unsuccess of these pizzas rests entirely on my shoulders
and not on the recipe itself.

I’ll be revisiting it again
with a lower moisture content cheese
thicker crusts
and aiming for a much hotter oven temperature.

Goodness knows the recipe made four other balls of pizza
so I’ve got enough practice dough to last me a while.

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Ike and Other Windfalls

Friday, September 12th found our household in a mostly normal state. A few things were out of the ordinary: I had off from work and my husband had no class or rotations to attend.

We also had the radio on in our house, and for good reason. Dire hurricane warnings were being blasted from every device capable of communication in Houston and every store in a 20 mile radius was out of ice. We know because we looked. Unlike the rest of the city of Houston, we weren’t looking for ice for our food but for our fish tank.

We have a 150 gallon salt-water fish tank and if there is no power in the house that means the chiller for the fish tank doesn’t work. Without a chiller to keep the water at a certain temperature for the fish, we could end up with 150 gallons of tropical fish soup.

I’m all about bulk cooking but that’s not usually what I have in mind.

Husband and I were not too concerned about the whole thing; we laughed at the non-event for Houston that was Rita and our lawn got a nice sprinkle from Gustav. We figured we would be without power for a few hours and then life would go on.

Since we couldn’t find ice, we filled up plastic baggies with water and put them in our outside freezer to freeze.

We crowded our patio furniture and decorations into the living room and we settled in for the storm.

With not much to do and cookbooks in my reading stack , I decided to cook a few things from our freezer lest we lose power.

I started making pork for tortas ahogadas.

Since the preparation for that dish is lengthy, my dinner that night was not any delicious pork. Instead, I grabbed something out of the freezer to eat.

That’s right, I ate a Hot Pocket.

I was just doing my part to continue emptying the freezer. Hot Pocket by Hot Pocket.

The power went out at 11:30 pm after the pork finished cooking. I still could have kept trucking with my gas stove, though.

Our house was pretty dark. See Exhibit A:

I moved the pot o’pork to the freezer for safekeeping and was happy I did not start making birote (the bread) for the tortas ahogadas. My stove is gas powered, however my oven is not.

The next morning we surveyed the damage to our house. It was not much; we lost a little tree in the back yard which almost took out the AC unit, but other than that we were still in shipshape.

Although we did not suffer any structural damage, we did not get power back for 6 days and lost almost all of our perishable food.

SIX. DAYS. Those little baggies in the freezer were sure laughing at us.

For 5 days we stayed with friends who got their power back within 24 hours. We transported as much of our frozen food over to their house as we could. Even with the food relocation, we had over $250 worth of steak in our freezer which partially thawed and was the cause for much sadness.

We did managed to save a lot of chicken, and the tasty pork was reassigned to nachos one night and carnitas another night.

I was sad that I didn’t get to finish making tortas but the grocery stores were circus-like, so I made do.

My refrigerator and freezer and still not fully stocked yet and I’ve managed to run out of non-perishables since I brought most of them over to our friends’ house.

Usually I do my fun baking and slow cooking on the weekends, along with all grocery shopping for the week, but Mr. Ike has thrown a wrench into things along with the fact that my weekends are pretty busy now.

I managed to land a part-time job at a restaurant here in Houston and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

The reviews on it are wonderful and the chefs intimidatingly creative and good. I feel like getting all Julie Andrews on you and singing ‘I must have done something gooooooood!’

It’s hard work. I worked in retail for a long time so I can deal with the standing up for long periods, but it’s keeping all of the orders straight which makes me a bit cross-eyed.

I get orders called to me without being able to see a ticket so I better be able to keep 7 orders of salads or desserts in order without missing one. It’s difficult but I enjoy it and I’m learning alot.

I’m proud that I’m in there and I already have a lot of food and technique knowledge I just need to work on my plating and balancing flavors.

I’m a slave to recipes something I’m trying to come away from but one thing at a time right?

For now I’ll worry about restocking my larders and not forgetting anyone’s orders on the weekends.

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