Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Taste of France, Australia, and California with Monsterville Horton, IV

Wednesday night I went to a wine class at Cova’s . I received a good introduction into the history and taste of wines made with Syrah/Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and blended “GSM” (Grenache, Shiraz, and Mataro) grapes. The nine different tastings of wine were accompanied by three food courses.

There is no doubt that not only is Monsterville entertaining he is quite knowledgeable. I enjoyed developing a larger vocabulary to describe what I was tasting, as well as the way he walked us through the smelling, tasting, and finish of the wines and then comparing the taste after we ate with our perceptions from before.

Two hours is to short a time to become an expert and as I learned - to short a time to finish all my wines without feeling a little tipsy, it was long enough to get a good introduction. I think if I continued to go to the classes I would learn not only the vocabulary to describe what it is I am looking for in a wine but how to choose them myself when I am at the wine store.

Wednesday night we had three flights, tasting nine wines that ranged in price from $10.99 to $64.99 (which I didn't even like), with the majority of then priced in the twenty dollar range.

The Washington Location was set up with six long tables facing the bar and Monsterville, as he walked us through the history of the grapes and the tasting and the descriptions of the wine.

There was one fellow who wanted to show off and he kept challenging Monsterville. But Monsterville is an accomplished teacher and he chuckled rather than debate this fellow that obviously did not know that much, perhaps he was trying to impress his date? Or make a fool of himself? Because he accomplished the later, but added a little entertainment to the evening.

My immediate neighbors at the table were enjoyable to be with , although conversation was limited. I sat next to an older gentleman whose wife was away and a pharmaceutical rep and her friend who was an internist in general practice.

But let’s get to the food, which was wonderful. Quite frankly in my humble opinion this is the way to do wine tasting, not just taste but pair it with food that shows it off. The chief of the evening was Cova's Mike Nutt he can really cook. The staff did a nice job of serving about thirty people all at once.

Here is what was served:

1st Course

Braised Goat with Puff Pastry and Tomato Tatare

The goat was delicious, it was crispy yet tender and worked well with the puff pastry and slightly sweet tomato tatare, it worked perfectly with the wines.

2nd Course

Roasted Squab with Flageolets and Squab Jus

I love squab and this was nicely roasted and flavorful. The flageolets are a mild French bean and while I like to have a vegetable with my meal, they were mushy and nondescript. It added to the presentation but did nothing for the overall taste or texture of the dish itself.

3rd Course

Herb-Dijon Crusted Venison with Creamy Polenta and Syrah/Juniper Sauce

The venison was very tender and paired well with the grainy texture of the polenta and tart sweetness of the juniper berries. My neighbor said it tasted like grits, which of course is made also from corn. I loved the feeling on my tongue as I bit into the venison and felt the slippery but slightly course and chewy polenta and the tartness of the sauce all in one bite, follow that by a good wine and my taste buds were dancing.



The food and the wine really worked. My advice for lightweight drinkers like myself, is just drink the glasses of wine you really like. Nine tastes even with the food was just to much wine for me.

I did walk away not just with the lesson from Monsterville, but some great handouts and notes I made on the wine. But between you and me, it was the food I am mainly interested but it is the wine that enhances it and knowing what to order or buy to drink with a meal makes all the difference in a good meal becoming a great meal, wouldn’t you agree?

The total cost of the evening was $50 plus tax and tip.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I Love My Bread + Some Recipes

I once weighed forty more pounds then I do now. I gained all that weight after I quit smoking. It took me six years to take off thirty pounds and then I was stuck. I tried every sort of diet and nothing seemed to work, until I added bread back into my diet and then the extra ten pounds disappeared. Go figure. It is good news for me, because I love my bread.

Delicious Pastries and Bread at Tous Les Jours

Normally I eat very healthy bread, made from whole grains, preferably baked by me with very little sugar or honey. If it is going to be store bought, I buy the multigrain bread at Costco. But I really love croissants and crusty French bread.

This morning I got up early and swam. Afterwards I went over to H-Mart on Blalock to have a chocolate croissant and coffee at the bakery there called Tous Les Jours . Check out the website it’s interesting, even if you do not know Korean.

At Tous Les Jours it is only $1.75 for the chocolate croissant and $1.55 for regular coffee, I was in heaven. The croissant is flakey with enough chocolate to be distinctive without being overly chocolate or to sweet. The coffee was excellent as well. Before I discovered this Korean / French bakery my favorite chocolate croissant was at kraftsmen bakery on Montrose and cost $2.95. Quite frankly Tous Les Jours got it down pat. I have tried their apple pastry and a cheese one, which were fine, but nothing compares to the chocolate croissant. I also like their banquette at $1.99.

Recipes Made from Recent Purchases

I frequently buy things that look good and are on sale, and then I am tasked with figuring out what to make them with the ingredients. From time to time on this blog I will put a picture of something I made and give you a brief outline of the dish and how I put it together. Please do not expect that I will measure out the ingredients – it just is not going to happen.

Farmer’s Market Arugula

I bought arugula and cremini mushrooms at the farmer’s market on Saturday. I made a pasta dish with it. Ingredients For Pasta & Arugula:

  • Chopped garlic
  • Sliced cremini mushrooms
  • Pignoli nuts
  • Diced cherry tomatoes
  • Arulga
  • Cooked bowtie pasta
  • Virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Sheared parmesan cheese.

I sautéed the garlic with the mushrooms in olive oil, then added the pignoli nuts and salt and pepper. When the pasta was done, I tossed it with the garlic, mushroom, pignoli nut mixture and the tomatoes and arugula, sprinkled it with parmesan cheese and added some fresh ground pepper. I drank a Pinot Noir with it.

Trip to H-Mart: 21-25 Count Shrimp on Sale $3.99 a Pound

The shrimp looked delcious and the price was right, so I picked up a little over a half a pound and brought it home. Now I had to figure out what to make. I decided on making what I am calling: Houston Black Bean Shrimp Salad.

Here are the ingredients:

  • Zest of lime
  • Lime juice (same lime I zested)
  • Black beans, one can rinsed
  • Cilantro
  • Peeled and diced tomato
  • Poblano pepper diced
  • Diced scallion
  • White Wine vinegar
  • Cooked shrimp, peeled and deviened then cut lengthwise and in half again
  • Salt and pepper

I mixed the cooked and sliced shrimp and black beans together. I mixed the remaining ingredients together and poured that over the black bean and shrimp mixture. I chilled the salad in the refrigerator for about an hour. It was yummy, but I bet the leftovers will be even better tomorrow.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tenacity Supper Club – A Meal Worth Remembering

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Farmer's Markets in Houston

I went to go swimming this morning only to discover the pool at St. Thomas was closed until Tuesday, so off I went to the farmer's markets. I wanted some cheese from the Houston Dairymaids , therefore I headed to the Midtown Farmer's Market located in the parking of Tafia, but I was disappointed by the slim pickings for produce. Next stop - The Houston Bayou City Farmer's Market located off of Richmond on Eastside (they are moving in a couple of months) and picked up some vegetables and a chicken. I also ran into friends there, which is always nice. I'll let you know if I create anything special with my purchases.

Miracle Fruit: Willy Wonkerish or The Emperor's New Clothes

It is said that when you eat the Miracle Berry it binds to your taste buds and makes bitter food taste sweet. I was a skeptic but excited at La Strada last evening, where over a hundred people ate a berry and then sampled a variety of food. I was there for the experience. My research indicted that the effects wore off after between 30 minutes to an hour.

i'm never full handed each one of us a berry in a little plastic bag and we were told to wait. After everyone had their berry, she carefully explained how we were to eat it. First we popped the berry into our mouths, then we chewed it and rolled the masticated fruit over our tongues.

I ventured forth chewing on my berry and rolling it around on my tongue for a minute or so. as I was anxiously awaited having a new tasting experience. Would this be like some delightful experiment one would find at Willy Wonker’s lab in the chocolate factory or more like the experience of the magical clothes in Hans Christian Anderson’s story about the Emperor’s new clothes?

After waiting a few minutes for the berry effect to kick in, I sampled some fruit, lemons, limes and cantaloupe. Oh ha! The lemons and limes had lost much of their tartness and had an over all sweet taste about them. I then ate some brussels sprouts, which tasted just like… brussels sprouts. I also tried some vinegar potato chips, pungent cheese, beer, and tequila – nothing. I drank some tabasco sauce and my lips burned, the tabasco sauce was drinkable, but let’s face it, I have never wished I could drink tabasco sauce, so no victory there. I also tasted some balsamic vinegar, which seemed alright.

I can see using the berry to sweeten food that has sour undertones. While I noticed my taste buds were slightly altered for a couple of hours following the eating of the berry, I never experienced the radical changes in my taste buds that the articles I had read indicated would be the consequence.

All in all, I think we all had a good time. For me there were two main positive outcomes from the tasting, I got to some of my on-line Houston Chowhounds friends and now I can say I have tasted the Miracle Berry. Thank you i’m never full for putting together this event. It was memorable.

Plant Background for all of you with scientific or curious minds:

Family: Sapotaceae
Genus: Synsepalum (sin-SEP-al-lum) (Info)
Species: dulcificum (dul-SIF-ih-kum) (Info)

Viva the Starbucks Vivanno?

I received a coupon for a free Vivanno from Starbucks. Since I hardly never venture in there, it took me a while to figure out there was one less than a mile from my house. Vivanno is the new protein smoothie drink at Starbucks. It comes in two flavors, Banana Chocolate and Orange Mango Banana. I tried the Chocolate one. At $3.75 I think the drink is pricey, but not out of line with smoothie prices at other stores. What’s with the straw? Not only does the green not match very well, it is twice the size of the drink itself.

My Vivanno tasted medicinal, with a strong chalky taste and unpleasant milk undertones. After finishing my drink I asked the barista behind the counter if he had tasted either one of the drinks and he said no, but another employee popped up and said that he thought the Orange Mango Banana one covered up the protein powder taste better. I defiantly would not recommend the Banana Chocolate Vivanno. In fact, unfortunately for Starbucks, I do not plan on visiting one again in the near future. To bad, they got me into the store and if the drink had been good, they may have gotten me back again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Great Expectations for Lunch at Feast

Today M. and I went out to celebrate my birthday. Yes it was back in April, but good things come to those that wait. At the recommendation of my new found Houston Chowhound friends (see links on the side), we went to Feast for their three course lunch, priced at $22. I had great expectations, not only because of the discussion regarding where I should go for a special birthday lunch, but another member had written about her marvelous experience at a wine dinner there last night.

We had 11:30 a.m. lunch reservations, usually we eat early to miss the crowds, but we picked a day that there were no crowds (there should be, but I am getting ahead of myself.) Feast is located in an old house on Westheimer in the Montrose section. Immediately upon entering one feels transported to the old world charm of Europe. Nothing felt hurried and we had a chance to really dine.

M. and I both ordered a glass of Albert Bichot Pinot Noir, 2006. The bottle was presented to us, we were given a taste and then generous portions were poured. It was a lovely wine, my only complaint is that it was room temperature, which is to warm for me in Houston. At $8.50 it was the most expensive wine by the glass I am not complaining, just noting) and for $29 one could have the whole bottle, which is more then I dare drink in the afternoon. There were several reasonably priced bottles to choose from, if one was interested.

Please see below for the complete lunch menu today.

For appetizers, M. choose the salad of fennel, pears, peppers and cilantro. It was a wonderful melody of flavors and textures. The one bite I had just oozed a mixture in my mouth of tastes that blended together in harmony, yet maintained a certain distinctiveness that added to the taste sensation. I had the scallop and monkfish escabeche with almonds and caperberries. If I may digress, escabeche is similar to ceviche, seafood in an acidic marinade, but from the recipes I found on the internet, escabeche uses poached fish and in ceviche the fish is cooked by the marinade. Back to my dish, the escabeche was wonderful; the blend of the tangy sweet and slightly tart marinade with the fresh taste of the scallops and monkfish was a melding of delight on my palate. At this point I was happy to call it a day, as I had eaten enough food already.

But no, I continued on to the main course. M. had the salmon, fennel, and red potato served in an aluminum foil sack. For some reason I never tasted it, but I smelled it (perhaps because I was engrossed in my own dish), but she raved about the smell as she opened the parcel and then the taste as she gobbled down every bite. I am sure her dish was good, but mine was over the top.

Before coming to Feast, I kept thinking about going to a British restaurant. All I could think about was fish and chips and Indian food, certainly not haute cuisine. I thought of the old joke:

Heaven is where the Police are British, the Chefs are French, the Mechanics are German, the Lovers Italian and it's all organized by the Swiss.
Hell is where the Chefs are British, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, the Police are German and it's all organized by the Italians.

But this is not just a British restaurant, it is more of an eclectic continental one with a huge nod towards Spanish (as in Spain) cuisine. In fact I thought this restaurant was too out there for M. She admitted, despite having traveled widely all over the world, that she is not an adventuresome eater and had some trepidation about the food at Feast. I say all this as a preamble to the description of my main course. I ordered the duck leg with sweet bread ragout, braised leeks, and potato cake. The meat had been removed from the duck leg and was nestled on top of perfectly cooked sweetbreads laid on a potato cake and covered and surrounded by a delicately flavored ragout cream sauce.

I had gone to heaven and the chef was British and the joke was wrong.

How do I describe my first bite, the mixture of slightly gamey, stringy duck, with the crispness and softness of the sweetbread covered by the cream sauce? (I could not get the potato cake in the same bite.) It was a spectacular sensation of multiple textures and marvelous flavor with not one over competing for the other, not one demanding too much attention, together a chorus of delight rang out on my palate. I wanted to lick the plate at the very end, besides the fact that it is gauche, I had dessert coming up and I had not a clue how I could eat another bite.

For dessert I had the chocolate mousse cake. It came on a bed of warm cream. It was not too sweet and while I would have been happy to end such a meal with fruit, it was a wonderful finale to a spectacular meal. M. had the bitter orange tart with custard. I might have ordered this, but I never feel it is a birthday meal, if I do not have chocolate for dessert. Hers was a wise choice. The bitter orange tart was two slices of orange on pastry with just enough sweetness in it to not be to bitter. I liked the accompanying custard, but M. didn’t care for it, I suspect because it was not the traditional sweet custard we are use to. We finished off with coffee, served in French Presses. Can you believe we dined for almost two hours? I had been transported to Europe.

I do not know why the place is not teaming with people, except that I surmise it has to do with economy. The meal was outstanding, the service not hurried and the atmosphere cordial and inviting.

Between you and me, I ate so much for lunch, I feel like I may never be hungry again. lol


Today's Menu

Lunch - Wednesday July 23

Pork, Cous Cous and Harissa Soup $6.95

Fish Soup with Rouille and Croutons $7.95

Salad of Fennel, Pears, Peppers and Cilantro $6.25

Scottish Smoked Salmon, Horseradish and Dill $9.95

Scallop and Monkfish Escabeche with Almonds and Caperberries $8.95

Red Cabbage and Pork Salad with Capers and Parsley $6.95

Brawn and Picalilli $7.95

Terrine of Pork, Prunes and Sweetbreads $6.95


Lamb Shank Pie with Kale and Anchovies $18.95

Salmon, Fennel and Red Potato Parcel $18.95

Pork Confit Tart, Duchess Potatoes and Braised Celery Hearts $17.95

Fish Pie: Cod Sole and Salmon in a Cream Sauce, topped with Mash, served with Minted Peas $17.95

Braised Beef Shank with Prunes, Mushroom Risotto and Roasted Eggplant $19.95

Faggot: Giant Pork Meatball, Mashed Potato and Grilled Zucchini $17.95

Duck Leg and Sweetbread Ragout, Long Beans and Potato Cake $19.95

Tongue in Breast: Beef Tongue rolled in Pork Breast, Potato Gratin and Braised Leeks $19.95


Cherry and Clotted Cream Ice Cream $5.95

Lime and Angostura Sorbet $5.95

Honey Wheat Cake with Butterscotch Sauce $5.95

Pear and Ginger Crumble with Custard $7.95

Chocolate Mousse Cake $6.95

Bitter Orange Tart $6.45

Set Lunch: 3 courses for $22


Welcome to my new blog “Food Princess Reports.” I will use this blog to report on restaurants, food stores, meals, and any other food related stories. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel free to comment about the entries. I look forward to you joining me on my food adventures.