Friday, January 31, 2014

No Velveeta? No Problem

As you may have undoubtedly already heard, according to Kraft there is a Velveeta shortage this year.  And of course this comes at the most inopportune time of Super Bowl Sunday.  Well, what if I told you that you need not worry.  There are plenty of ways to still make a cheesy delicious dip that does not require Velveeta but instead just a little know how.  And if you don't want a cheesy dip, then let me offer you some alternatives as well.

A simple cheese sauce is not hard to make.  It also give you the freedom to make it how you want to.  Purists will probably stick to cheddar or American cheese, but for the more adventurous you can try different cheeses or even cheese combinations.  To make a simple cheese sauce you will need:

1 quart whole milk
3 oz AP flour
3 oz butter
8 oz cheese, shredded
Salt and White pepper to taste

The first step is to heat your butter and add your flour.  Allow it to cook slightly to make a roux on medium to medium low heat.  Once you have allowed the roux to form, add your cold milk to the sauce pan stirring the entire time to avoid lumps.  Once the roux and milk have been completely incorporated and the mixture has thickened turn down the heat to low.  Now you can start to mix in your cheese.  The key here is to add it SLOWLY.  Don't dump it in all at once as this will make your cheese sauce grainy.  Add a little cheese, mix and allow it to melt, then add some more.  After you are done adding your cheese then add your seasonings.  This allows your to adjust to your tastes.  If you want to make your cheese sauce fancy, you can always try adding a dash of Worcestershire sauce, some dry mustard or some hot sauce.  To make a queso dip, try using Asadero, Oaxaca, or Chihuahua cheese as well as some pico de gallo or your own favorite salsa.

Now if you don't want a cheese sauce or you want something else to accompany it, here are some alternatives:

How about some delicious guacamole to accompany your queso dip.  All you need is
2 medium ripe (soft) avacados
1/2 white onion diced or minced
2 jalapenos or serranos stems and seeds removed and diced
1/2 cup cilantro chopped
2-3 tbsp of lime juice
1 large tomato diced
salt and pepper to taste

First just mash the avocados to your desired consistency.  If you like your guacamole chunky don't mash them up so much.  For a creamier guacamole you can even use a food processor if you'd like.  After that just fold in all of your other ingredients and season to your liking.  If you like you can even add a tablespoon of cumin for extra flavor.  Oh, and if you are truly lazy or pressed for time, just take the avocados and mix them with pico de gallo or salsa. I once made a "guacamole" with nothing but some under ripe avocados, a blender, and the contents of my friend's spice rack.

Now one dip you might want to give a chance is hummus.  It is not hard to make and so adaptable and customizable it might as well be a Honda.  What you will need is

2 cans of cooked chickpeas, cooked
1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
2 garlic cloves minced
2-3 tsp cumin
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
paprika for garnish

Just combine the first five ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth.  While processing, slowly drizzle in olive oil.  Reserve about a tablespoon of the oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour the hummus into a serving bowl.  Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with paprika.  If you want to give your hummus a little kick, add a bit of cayenne pepper to it.  Like I said earlier, you can really customize your hummus.  Add anything from roasted red peppers to a Mediterranean olive spread.   Or get crazy and add black beans, or even feta cheese.  Yum.

Hopefully this will leave you better prepared for Super Sunday, even without the Velveeta!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

R.I.P. Brian O'Neil's: Goodbye Old Friend

Last night was an end of an era.  At least for me and my friends it was..  You see after this Sunday Brian O'Neill's in the Rice Village will be shutting its doors.  It will then be remodeled and rebranded into something completely different.  The reason I say that last night was an end of an era is because my friends and I have been going to what we affectionately call Brian O's in one form or another since 2002. It was also one of my first reviews when I started blogging.

I first discovered  Brian O's back in 2002 when my college roommate and I were hungry and in search of a place to eat.  Living in an apartment very close to the Rice Village, we decided to explore. We happened to chance upon Brian O's and wandered in.  It was then that we noticed that Brian O's had a weekly Wednesday special of half priced burgers.  My roommate and I decided to come back that Wednesday.  It was that first Wednesday of many that we also discovered that Brian O's had a glass special, where, if you bought their glass, you got cheap refills on beer as long as you had your glass.
Original Brian O'Neil's Glass

After that we were hooked.  My roommate and I spent many a Wednesday night there throughout the school year.  That is where I first sang karaoke. Since my roommate and I were having such a good time, we started inviting other friends.  Brian O's is where we watched Rice lose the second game of the 2003 College World Series.  One of my friends was almost turned against Brian O's due to a bad order and a vindictive waitress.  Luckily he was not soured enough to not come back.  As time passed, more and more friends started to show up on Wednesday.  Next thing we knew, it was our weekly tradition.  Show up at Brian O's on Wednesday before 7:30 for half priced burgers and cheap beer.  Show up after 7:30 and we will have already ordered without you.  Those were the rules.

As time went on, some of the faces changed and some of us could not always be there, but the time and the place remained constant. It became like an old warm comfortable blanket.  It was where we could meet on weekly basis to converse and discuss the events of the week or plan for the upcoming weekend. Even after some changes were made to the menu and they changed the glass special (bring your own up to 32 oz), the time and the place remained constant.  Even if you could not make it this week, you always knew there was next week as the time and the place remained constant.

Brian O's did not only serve as our weekly meeting place.  We also had other event there.  I remember more than one birthday celebration being had at Brian O's.  I had part of my bachelor party there as well as the rehearsal dinner for my wedding.  Brian O's has been a part of my life pretty much since its beginning.

But as they say the only thing that ever stays the same is change.  It was announced via Eater Houston that Brian O'Neill's was shutting down to remodel  and rebrand with a whole new menu.  Now while Brian O'Neill's is not technically closing, what it once was will be gone and I can't help but feel a little sad about that.  Last night was the last Wednesday of what had been a great weekly tradition.  Last night was our last hurrah.  Some of us even took our old Brian O's glasses.

We talked and cajoled like have done for so many nights, but we also reminisced a bit.  So, as the night ended, it was like saying good bye to an old friend.  Farewell Brian O'Neill's, you will be missed but not forgotten!

Brian O'Neill's Traditional Irish Pub on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Perfect for a cold winter's day: Mexican Hot Chocolate

With the weather still being cold especially in Houston, I was reminiscing about some of my favorite cold weather foods. One of my favorites when I was growing up was hot chocolate.  However, since I grew up in a Mexican household, we would often drink Mexican hot chocolate.  It is very similar to your everyday variety, except that traditional Mexican hot chocolate includes semi-sweet chocolate, cinnamon, sugar, and vanilla. In Mexico, hot chocolate remains a popular national drink. Besides the instant powder form, hot chocolate of this type is commonly sold in circular or hexagonal tablets which can be dissolved into hot milk, water, or cream, and then blended until the mixture develops a creamy froth. The two most common types of Mexican chocolate sold in tablets are Abuelita and Ibarra.

If you can't find these two brands at your local grocer, you can scour the internet and find a litany of recipes that you can make on your own.  The one common factor amongst all Mexican hot chocolate is that it is chocolate that has been spiced with other things not typically found in most common hot chocolate recipes.

Making hot chocolate from the tablets is really quite simple. All you need is a sauce pan, some milk, the chocolate itself and a whisk.  In Mexico a wooden whisk called a molinillo is used to whip up the froth on the finished chocolate. 
The first step is to heat up your milk. Back in the day hot chocolate used to be made with hot water instead (thus the title of the popular novel Like Water For Chocolate) Usually you need about 2 cups for every half tablet of chocolate.  You want the milk nice and hot, about a simmer.  You definitely don't want to scald the milk or have it boil over as this will give your hot chocolate a less than idle flavor.  When I talked to my mom about how to make the hot chocolate, she said that my grandmother would add a little cold water(just enough to coat the bottom) to the pan as primer to help protect the milk from scalding.

As the milk comes up to temp, you can cut your chocolate into pieces as it will be quicker and easier to dissolve the chocolate in pieces instead of one big chunk.  Once the milk is hot enough, you introduce the chocolate into the milk whisking rapidly to dissolve and incorporate the chocolate.  Always be mindful of the heat of your milk.  You still don't want it to overheat and scald or burn the chocolate.  Once all the chocolate has been introduced, you can cut the heat and just continue to whisk until it completely dissolves and the chocolate begins to froth up.  As soon as that happens, serve and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Breakfast Klub

Let me start by saying that I had not done a review of The Breakfast Klub before due to the fact that I figured everyone who loves good food and live in Houston knows the The Breakfast Klub.  Apparently, I was wrong. Very wrong. And that makes me sad.  Why?  Simply because everyone who lives in Houston and does not know this midtown haven of scrumptious breakfast and soul food is doing themselves and quite frankly their family a disservice.  Am I overstating this a bit?  No, not in the least.  To put it simply, I love the place.  I love the atmosphere, the staff, the service and especially the food.  OH DEAR GOD, THE HEAVENLY FOOD!  But I will get to that later.  The Breakfast Klub is located in midtown right off of the the US-59 exit on Travis St.  It is right across the street of  the somewhat infamous mural of President Obama.  Parking right next to the restaurant is a little troublesome, due to the small lot, but there is plenty of parking just down the street.  The hours of operation are 7 am to 2 pm Mon.-Fri. and 8am to 2pm Sat. and Sun.  A line develops quickly to get in, so the key is to arrive early.  But even if you have to wait in line, it is totally worth it!

The Breakfast Klub is the work of Marcus Davis (also the proprietor of the The Reggae Hut).  After being middle school teacher, Mr. Davis decided he wanted to something else instead.  So he took the experience he had from working for his father's catering business and opened up The Breakfast Klub in 2001.  Since opening, The Breakfast Klub has won numerous awards and well as being mentioned by such media outlets as Good Morning America, USA Today, Esquire and Forbes as "one of the best breakfast restaurants in America".

While the Breakfast Klub has a great many wonderful dishes, they are best know for the two signature dishes: The Katfish & Grits or The Wings & Waffles.  I have had both and they live up to their top billing as signature dishes.  Of the two though, I have to say that I prefer the Katfish & Grits. 
It comes with your choice of biscuit or toast and of how you would like your eggs prepared.  Needless to say that  no matter how you choose your eggs, they will always come out perfectly. At the very least they will be prepared as close to perfectly as anyone can prepare eggs.  The same can be said of, well, everything else.  The catfish is always fried just right so that the outside is crispy but not burnt and the inside is moist and juicy and full of flavor.  If you are not a fan of grits, the grits from the Breakfast Klub will give you reason to reconsider.  They are always have the just right consistency.  They are soft and pillowy, but not runny. Not only that, but they are always well seasoned.  One of my biggest complaints about grits is that they are usually left unseasoned so you get what amounts to a pile of flavorless ground corn mush.  About the only thing I add to this wonderful dish is hot sauce.  I love hot sauce and I think it compliments the dish perfectly.  It is without question, one of my favorite breakfast dishes.

The other signature dish is The Wings & Waffle.  This is a golden Belgian waffle surrounded by 6 wing pieces and topped with powdered sugar and a strawberry.  This dish, while not my favorite of the two signatures is still very good.  The wings, like the catfish, are fried to perfection.  The waffle is crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside.  The mixture of sweet and savory is amazing.  I would have never thought that fried chicken wings and a waffle would work together, but they really do.

Official Picture of Wings & Waffle from The Breakfast Klub webpage

There is one more dish that I feel I must share with you.  It is probably my second favorite dish at the Breakfast Klub.  I'm talking about the Pork Chops and Eggs.  You get  two pork chops (fried or grilled) and 2 eggs served with potatoes or grits and choice of toast or biscuit.  If I remember correctly, if you ask nicely, they will even let you order one fried and one grilled.  Either way they are served, the pork chops are wonderful.  They are moist, tender and so full of flavor.  I usually get the biscuit, because to me, nothing beats a great biscuit for breakfast.  Once again the Breakfast Klub delivers.  Biscuits are a good size.  Not too big as to feel you are overwhelmed by it and not so small as if you feel you are being cheated out of your bread.  You can tell the biscuits are homemade as they are firm, but flake easily.  Yum.

Now, when you go to the Breakfast Klub, make sure you go hungry.  This place does not skimp on the portions.  They are all very generous and very filling.  I asked for a side of the sausage gravy (which I could eat as a soup, its soo good) and I got one of the coffee bowls filled halfway with gravy.

  They are also as generous with the coffee which has free refills for all you caffeine addicts.  

Anyway you slice it, The Breakfast Klub is a great venue for eating, people watching and just a generally positive experience.  It is worth going, even if you have to wait in line to get in the doors.  

The Breakfast Klub on Urbanspoon