"Sure sweetheart...how about I buy that ticket for you for your birthday?" SWEET!
So last Sunday, I hopped on a shuttle bus outside the Whole Foods Market on Kirby, ready to get some great eats and armed with my camera. I actually got there a 1/2 hour early, so I went inside and bought some whole grain barley flour to make somewhole-grain chocolate chips cookiesfor the kids. I can't find whole barley flour at any other store.
These tours originally started over a year ago, when 4 local chefs got together and brainstormed ways to get Houston's culinary scene on the map. Eventually, the idea of taking people on tours of different areas of town, specifically ethnic areas or genre of food (Chinatown, BBQ, Creole, Southern Comfort etc.) was developed. Ever since, the tours have been sold out (or nearly sold out).
Shepard is chef and partner at Catalan, and extremely knowledgeable about the food scene in Chinatown. While we rode the bus to our first stop, he talked about how he scoped out the places he loves to eat at. I couldn't wait...my stomach was already growling!
A brief side note: None of these places have a website. So when you click on "Fu Fu", you'll read some reviews about the restaurant. Pay NO attention to the reviews people. Everything I had was excellent. Either these people are talking smack, or don't appreciate good, authentic Chinese food. Enough said.
Another side note: All our food was pre-ordered for us...which I really didn't mind. Unless you look Asian (which I do, but my hubby obviously does not), the waiter at a Chinese restaurant will hand you a menu in English and a fork. But...if you're smart, you should ask for the "real" menu, (which may be in English and Chinese) and chopsticks. Even if you're not that great with chopsticks, you'll get some respect for trying.
All right... on to the food!
We had Walnut Shrimp, Steam Soup Pork Bun, and Pan Fried Pork Dumplings. It was insanely good. (We had a professional food photographer along...I am sure her pics came out much better than mine). I took a couple of pics of everyone while we waited for the dishes...it didn't take long.
I make a mean pork dumpling, if I do say so myself, but I have to cheat and use store-bought wrappers. The wrappers here were obviously made in-house, which I have never attempted, and probably never will...it takes a whole day to make them. I was able to get a few leftover dumplings and a couple of the soup buns to go...awesome!
Here, we sampled Roasted Pork with Crispy Skin, Stir Fried Rice Noodles, Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce, and the pice de resistance, Peking Duck.
I could not get over the Peking Duck. We were all trying to pace ourselves, but I just had to have 2 helpings...it was divine. I had Peking Duck at my wedding reception, but it did not even compare to what I had at Sinh Sinh.
There was plenty leftover, and everyone at my table insisted I take it home...lucky me!!! (I'd already mentioned I had 4 kids and a hubby at home, and was told they could eat it ;-).
The next stop was a Vietnamese restaurant, Saigon Pagolac(forgot to take a pic outside this time, sorry). But I did take a picture of the tables they had ready for us...really pretty!
We had Betel Leaf Wrapped Beef, Sugar Can Shrimp, Vietnamese Crepes, Lemongrass Beef and Salted Plum Soda.
This place was fun! You get to cook your own beef on a hot skillet in the middle of the table, and wrap our own food up in rice wrappers (which require soaking in water). It's always great to make your plate just how you like it.
After our third stop, Chef Shephard decided to stop at Hong Kong Food Market before we hit our last restaurant. He though it would still be packed with the lunch crowd, and they would be more able to accomodate our group if we gave them a little more time. So we walked through the market, admiring all the produce, meat, seafood, etc. I was tempted to buy a rice cooker (but didn't), but loved the smells coming from the bakery section. There is a Hong Kong Food Market in my area, which I blogged about back in May, so check it out if you want to know more.
Here, we feasted on Steamed Shrimp Dumplings, Steamed Pork Spare Ribs, Fried Shrimp Puff with Mayo, Fried Dumpling with Meat, and Fried Egg in Milk Bun (which was a sweet dim sum and disappeared before I could get a pic). All of the dishes were very tasty.
I particularly loved the Steamed Shrimp Dumplings. Just loved 'em.
Now I was finally full. And happy. Very happy. ;-) I didn't even have dinner that night...and there were visions of dim sum dancing in my head. Ahh!
Oh, I almost forgot...we got goodie bags on the ride back to Whole Foods. Who doesn't love a goodie bag?
I'm keepin' it all for me, except the "H-town" t-shirt. It won't fit me because it's an extra-large. (Wait a minute...since I'm 6 1/2 months pregnant, it might fit me after all!).
David and Rebecca enjoyed yummy leftovers Sunday night and my girl and I had the rest the next day for lunch. Guess what Rebecca liked the most? The crispy duck skin! She is for sure my daughter and a foodie in the making. I made sure to get take-out menus from all 4 restaurants (as did everyone else on the tour). If my hubby has a client call in the Bellaire area, and it's close to dinnertime, I'm getting it to go y'all!
I definitely want to go on another tour! Here's the website again, in case you want to get in on the action. It was so much fun...it would be especially fun as a date with your hubby or a girl's day out!
We had family in town the last week of August, right when the basil in the garden had reached MONSTROUS heights. I really should have taken a picture of it...but didn't...sorry about that. You will have to use your imagination. This one basil plant had branched out into a bush about 12 feet long, 4 feet high, and about 5 feet deep. It covered at least 1/3 of our entire garden bed. Land sakes alive people!
I decided to enlist the help of my SIL and she helped me pick 2 huge bowls of basil (she later told David she'd never seen basil grown so big before). I've always loved pesto, and having so much basil in the back yard called for major pesto production.
Basil pesto can be used in so many cooking applications. Besides being tossed with hot, freshly cooked pasta, try a dollop in a bowl of soup. Add it to mayo for a great sandwich spread, use it on baguette slices for bruschetta...you can even mix it into mashed potatoes. Yum!
I do think using a good quality cheese, like Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano results in a better tasting pesto than using the regular grated Parmesan you get in the canisters at the grocery store. I know it's more expensive, but you only need 3 tablespoons of cheese per batch of pesto...so a little goes a long way. I also don't add salt or pepper to my pesto--the cheese adds enough of a salty punch, and the spicy basil can hold it's own without any additional pepper.
One more thing...a good food processor is a must for making pesto. I used my big one because I nearly always make multiple batches...but a mini food processor will work if you're making a single recipe.
Bow Tie Pasta with Basil Pesto, Marscapone, and Grilled Chicken
FOR THE PESTO (Makes about 1/3 cup):
2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons pine nuts, sliced almonds or walnut pieces
2 medium cloves of garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons grated cheese (pecorino romano or parmigiano-reggiano is preferred)
1/3 cup olive oil
FOR THE REST OF THE DISH:
4 chicken breasts, grilled to your liking
1/3 to 1/2 cup marscapone cheese (found next to the regular cream cheese in your grocery store)
1 pound bow tie pasta, cooked al dente, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water for the sauce
Additional grated cheese (paremsano, romano, etc.) for garnish if desired
Bring a large pot or deep skillet of water to a boil. You don't need to fill up the whole thing...just enough to submerge the basil. Have a large bowl of ice water ready nearby. Now...I'll bet you're thinking, why are we blanching the basil? (Try saying that 3x fast. ;-)
I've learned if you blanch the basil first, it will help the leaves retain their bright green color. I would always freeze my leftover pesto, and was disappointed when it would turn a muddy greenish-black after it thawed. So I did some research...and now I blanch the basil first. It's a quick, easy step...you'll be glad you did. Plus...any tiny bugs that didn't get washed off will be boiled out of existence.
I was making multiple batches, so you'll see there are more ingredients in the pictures below.
Once your water is boiling, drop in your basil and gently push the leaves under the surface. Turn off the heat, and just let the basil hang out for 30 seconds to 1 minute. All you have to do is essentially wilt it...which takes no time at all.
Use a large slottted spoon or spider strainer to remove the basil to the bowl of ice water. We want to shock the basil so it stops cooking.
After about 5 minutes, drain the basil and gently squeeze it dry. You don't have to get every last bit of water out, but it shouldn't be drippy at all.
Now, in your food processor fitted with the chopping blade, combine the basil, nuts, garlic, and cheese.
Process until everything is in very small bits, about the size of fresh bread crumbs.
With the machine running, slowly pour in the olive oil through the feeder until you have a thick paste. Some people like their pesto a bit looser...so add more olive oil if you'd like. I like it thicker, and often use only half to 2/3 of the olive oil.
At this point, you can use the pesto right away, or freeze in small containers for future use. Thaw at room temperature before using.
Isn't that PURTY???
The simplest way to use pesto (in my opinion) is to serve it with pasta. I boiled up the bow ties, and immediately tossed it with about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of pesto, the pasta water, and the marscapone cheese. Make sure you do this when the pasta is HOT...this helps distribute all the yummy goodness of pesto and cheese and pasta water together to make the sauce.
Slice up the grilled chicken, and serve with the pasta. Grate some more cheese on top if you'd like.
My SIL and BIL loved this dish...and so did my nephew Ben. I think he had seconds in fact! ;-)
I know some of you have already had fall blow in, but we're still in the low to mid 80's here in south Texas. So go beg, borrow, or steal some basil and make some pesto to enjoy now and in the winter when you're wanting something fresh and green that reminds you of summer's bounty.
This recipe came about when I became determined to try and get more people in our house to like grits. I'd had minor success with polenta, but I really wanted to cook grits on a more regular basis. Most of you have this problem...you enjoy certain foods, but rarely cook them because nobody eats them except you.
Now David will eat just about anything if I put a LOT of cheese in it. But that adds fat and calories. After some research...I decided to try making the grits with evoporated milk instead of water. I still put some cheese in, but not as much as I might have, hoping the evaporated milk would give it a nice, creamy texture and great flavor.
In addition to having an adversion to grits, only David, Rebecca, and I eat shrimp. So I added some sausage to the recipe...now everyone else would have a protein to eat.
Want to see if this will pass the test at your house? Here's the recipe...it's easy, and you'd better bookmark it for Lent next spring, minus the sausage, of course. ;-)
Shrimp over Creamy, Cheesy Grits
1 cup quick cooking grits
3 cups evaporated milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup mild cheddar cheese
Dash of salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 pound link sausage, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
2 bay leaves
1 can (15 ounces) low sodium chicken broth
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
We'll start with the grits...they'll stay plenty hot while you make the shrimp. Bring the 3 cups of evaporated milk to a gentle boil and pour in the grits.
Stir in the salt, pepper, and continue to cook for 5-10 minutes...however long the box tells you too. When all the milk has been absorbed, the grits are done.
Remove from the heat and add the butter and cheese (I know...the salt and pepper were in this pic instead of the previous one). Stir once more to incorporate all the cheese. Put the lid on and set aside.
Heat the one tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and saute until soft. Toss in the sausage and let it brown for 5 minutes on both sides. It's already fully cooked, so we're just going for a little little more flavor by searing it.
Sprinkle in the flour, and stir well so your sauce won't develop any lumps. Pour in the chicken broth and keep stirring, scraping the bottom of the pan to get up any brown bits.
Now you can add the Old Bay, bay leaf, and shrimp.
Continue to cook for about 5-6 minutes. When the shrimp are pink and opaque, they're done.
Keep in mind any seafood will continue to cook on the plate, so if you undercook them just a hair, by the time you serve it, it will be finished (overcooked shrimp have a rubbery texture...which is not very appetizing!).
Turn off the heat, and stir in the green onions and parsley.
Ladle some grits in a bowl, and top with a nice serving of the shrimp and sausage mixture.
YUM! Wasn't that easy? I know Paula Deen woud have used 2x as much butter, lol.
I held my breath while David took his first bite.
ME: "Well, do you like it sweetheart?"
DAVID: "You know what, the grits work. It's good."
ME: "So if I made it again, would you eat it?"
DAVID: "Yes, I would. I like it."
At that point, I wanted to jump up on the table and do a little dance but I restrained myself. We do try and teach our kids proper table manners after all. ;-)
Rebecca said the grits were "okay." She did like the rest though. David had his bowl, and a second helping. In my book, if half of our family eats it, I'll make it again.
So...there you are, a classic dish with a little twist. Hope you enjoy making it.