Friday, October 31, 2008

Madden's (not John, but Peter)

Last time when we were in College Station we had the fortunate circumstance of waking up early enough on Saturday to go to Madden's for breakfast. For those of you who do not know, Madden's is one of my all time favorite restaurants. You may think that College Station is a cow-tipping, bar-filled town and I would have to agree with you. But Madden's is not in College Station, it is in Bryan, which makes it much more authentic!!! Kidding aside, there are also culinary gems to be found between the beer joints (or in this case far away from the beer joints). Madden's is located in historic downtown Bryan and is attached to a shop (which is the only way to describe the place). It is very rusticly loft-like in decor (which, again, is the only way I can describe it) with brick interior walls, hardwood floors, and a cozy setting (complete with working fireplace). I worked briefly with Peter from November 2003 to May 2004 at Cafe Eccell. Peter Madden then set out on his own culinary journey and my tummy has been giving thanks ever since! The menu has a great variety and Peter changes it enough that we (living in Houston and not being able to go as often as we like) can have a new selection when we come in. Some of the standards for lunch include the best meatloaf (really lean meat, well seasoned, and grilled with mashed potatoes and sauteed cabbage), boneless fried chicken breast (again mashed potatoes, and you can tell he has his oil at the right temperature because it is crispy and moist- not greasy), a variety of fresh salads (everything from ceasar to chicken salad to crab salad), and for those cold days in which you want to sit by the fire, delicious and creamy tomato bisque soup served with fresh mozzarella. You can already tell by the few items I have described that Peter's attention to detail and taking extra steps to make sure that each experience is both unique and comforting at the same time make for great food! Dinner is no different. One of my all time favorite entrees is the coco, coffee, and chili rubbed tenderloin steak. The 3-c rub enhances the flavor of the steak and gives your mouth something interesting without taking away from the pure steak flavor that comes with chosing quality meat. The sea scallops are also popular with my family, because he does a great job searing the scallops and serving it with a creamy risotto and a beautiful salad that, quite simply, refreshes the palate after eating the dish. Peter definitely takes opportunities to try different things as specials and depending on how he and the customers like them moves new items onto the regular menu. He has to keep us coming back for more! If you have a table that is accomodating or are looking for a lighter dish yourself, try the crab and avocado salad. It is served with tortilla chips and a sun dried tomato garnish. The crab and avocado are always fresh and work really well together. The wine list is complete without being exhausting to look over and I have never had a wine that I have not enjoyed. Even the lower end wines are good, the more you spend, the better it becomes! I usually save room for dessert and enjoy indulging in their blackberry bread pudding. The blackberries are plump and there is a touch of brandy cooked in to the pudding (which is different from having a whiskey or brandy sauce served on the sid, instead they serve the pudding with vanilla bean ice cream which is a nice contrast to the warm pudding). The unique touch however is the fact that they carmelize the top of the bread pudding creating a extra layer of deep flavor on an already delicious dessert. I saved breakfast for last because breakfast is the hardest meal to get there. If you love eggs benedict you have to make a drive to Madden's. They have recently added a few varities of the dish, but I particularily enjoy their "regular" eggs benedict. It is served with pork loin that is smoked in house, their poached eggs (which are always set just enough that you have a little additional runny yolk and a little yolk that is set), english muffins, a perfectly tangy hollandaise sauce, and grilled asparagus. I love this dish and get it every other time I am there. A new addition to the menu is the Jambalya burrito which should not just be for the daring of palate. It is a really flavorful dish that has just enough spice.

As far as service goes, they rarely lack in excellent attention to each of their tables. Peter and his wife Tara are excellent hosts and when at the restaurant make an effort to greet tables as much as possible. If you have the chance to meet them, please do so. It makes each experience at the restaurant feel a little more personal, as if you might be dining at their own home (I like to think that I am!!!). Blake, the general manager, is actually also one of my former co-workers and has worked his way up through the ranks at the restaurant. He knows the restaurant well because he has been with the restaurant almost since it opened (if not since it opened). We try to ask for Damon (again a former co-worker) because his knowledge of food and wine is as extensive as it gets! I know I can sit at one of his tables, say suprise me, and something wonderful will arrive! The rest of the wait staff is accomodating, friendly, and helpful and any questions you have or changes you would like to make are done to the best of their ability (not that there are many changes that need to occur).

In case you could not tell, I love Madden's. The setting is great, the food and service are wonderful, and the prices are good for what you get!

Monday, October 13, 2008

James Coney Island

This past Tuesday Texas celebrated National Night Out. The reasoning for the delay has nothing to do with the fact that Texas has to be on their own page about everything and refuses to do things the "national" way in some radical attempt at exerting our own idealistic beliefs about our state within the union. The simple fact is, it is too hot to celebrate and grill outside in September. The only exclusion to that comes on real holidays (like Memorial day, Labor day, July 4th, and Aggie football game days). Thus, we celebrated in October. Since moving to the suburban, cookie cutter neighborhood that we did, Mattie and I wondered what sort of perks came with living (and paying for the fee) of a neighborhood that has an HOA. We found out on National Night Out with the promise of free JAMES CONEY ISLAND at the clubhouse! We were stoked, but tried to keep our excitement in check because we were unsure if there would be any left once we arrived. We cautiously entered the clubhouse (where we will both be casting our ballots on November 4th) and looked around for the promised dogs. There they were, steamed buns, chili sauce, melted cheese, onions, mustard and all. For those of you unfamiliar with James Coney Island, call me when you come to Houston. I have a personal attachment to the place. The company was founded in downtown Houston and is something of a local chain. I am not sure when my earliest visit to James Coney Island was but the memories made there (at any of their locations) easily number in the hundreds. First, Grandaddy and Nana ALWAYS took us there when we visited them. I cannot remember a single visit (several times a year) that we did not stop at JCI when we were with them. Grandaddy (being the large man he was) would polish off 4 chili cheese dogs and an order of fries. I still remember the time he ordered me a dish of chili cheese fries. I had already scarfed down my two chili cheese dogs (extra mustard, extra onions) and although I was not remotely hungry, he gave me money (or maybe he gave Nana money) to order chili cheese fries. With that characteristic Grandaddy gleam in his eye he watched as I grabbed my first fry. Their fries are the old fashioned kind, the kind you would make at home if you wanted fries. They are not too thick and not too thin, crispy on the outside, soft and potato-ey on the inside. Their chili and cheese is the same as what they put on their dogs. A thin, but tasty layer of chili seasoned meat and creamy (deliciously processed) cheese. I grabbed a fry that was almost completely covered by the toppings, with only a small niblit of actual fry to hold and held the treat over my mouth. As I put the fry in my mouth, I knew why Grandaddy had such a gleam in his eye. I had never had such a tasty and complete variety of flavors in a fry before. Sometimes you want ketchup and fries and sometimes you want something more. The chili cheese fries were something more. That first (and second and third) fry was something that would not be matched until having the bacon cheese fries with ranch at the Deluxe Diner in C.S. which is no more. Now I had a dilemma, do I order two dogs or a dog and fries. I tended to vary my selection and was happy for the day that I could convince someone to share an order of chili cheese fries with me. I never eat a JCI dog without thinking about my Grandaddy! The other important JCI experience is with my mom. Mom, Jessica, and I would frequent JCI whenever possible. Growing up there was not a JCI really close to us, but I remember on big shopping Saturdays (especially around back to school time) we would always try to find a James Coney Island if possible. It did not matter where because although it is a local chain, it is always delicious and pretty consistent. Mom would always get a chili dog and a frito pie which led to one of our JCI traditions- "the tooth check". For some reason the chili on the frito pie left little bits of chili all over your teeth. Because mom and I both hate to walk around with stuff in our teeth. I slowly graduated from the chili cheese fries on to tater tots when they began to offer them. With moms guidance I began to add extra mustard onto the coney in order to get an extra punch of that tangy flavor. The mustard and ensuing tanginess helped cut through the creamy cheese and greasy chili. I like to think of the yellow condiment as being the wine that helps cut through certain flavors of your dinner. Regardless of becoming a lover of JCI, the more important part is the memories that were made there. I cannot pass the location where Grandaddy would take us without thinking about the plate of coneys he would polish off and the times we would go to the locations with the old fashioned tables. And often, when I think of going to lunch or hanging out with my mom from my childhood until I left for high school, somewhere in the chain of memories, JCI comes to mind.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Two things

I have two different things I want to write about in this post. The first is the concept of the drive-in movie. The second is the spins on Breakfast food (and time) that Mattie and I enjoy.

First, the drive in is a wonderful place that most people have only heard of in stories of days long past. About a year ago, our wonderful pals Crystal and Darren invited us to tag along to the drive in theater in Tomball. Not only is it a wonderful way to get fresh air and entertainment all in one, but it is a really cheap date. Two movies for the low price of $5 (That is U.S. dollars Martha...he he) and the added bonus of sneaking in food and having plenty of room in your car (rather than your purse or pockets) to do so. Technically you are sneaking in food because the "rules" say that no outside food or beverage is allowed in. I believe (and maybe falsely so) that this is more of a technically published in order to free the drive in of any liability. Their concession choices are decent and are a very good price, but it is better to buy treats and snacks to enjoy from the comforts of the bed of your truck. Usually Mattie and I make supreme sub sandwiches with real deli meat, special cheese, and all the fixings (especially avocado) on good bakery bread. In fact I am not entirely sure that we have ever made anything else to take with us to the drive in. I like the concept of fried chicken (just as delicious cold as it is hot), but Mattie does not like (or appreciate) that idea. Any additional ideas are much appreciated (keep in mind my carnivorous husband). We also always take chips or other salty snacks and an assortment of jelly beans, chocolates, or other sweet treats. This past weekend (we saw Eagle Eye- eh and House bunny- predictably funny and sweet) and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. Our new non-alcoholic beverage of choice- Fresca (yummy grapefruit soda) mixed with pomegranate juice (it is so hot right now). Try the drive in, you will have a blast.

Now on to bigger and better things- Breakfast food breakthroughs! This summer, after a stroke of genius (and I know this has probably been made before), Mattie and I (and by both I mean myself) made breakfast quesadillas. What? you might is that so? It sounds so crazy that it just might work. It does work and I will tell you, it requires very little else than the addition of a single ingredient, substitution of another, and openmindedness. The addition of the single ingredient- eggs. You have to have eggs in a breakfast undertaking of this magnitude. I recommend scrambled, in fact I have never tried any other type of cooked egg. The substitution- switch out the fajita meat for sausage, bacon, or ham. Trust me it is delicious! Other than that, you would proceed as normal with making your cheese, flour tortilla, and heat combination that you always would. Please try it. If you feel that a breakfast quesadilla is too much for you to handle and you wish to proceed with caution, try one of my favorites from Madden's (oh- the posts that need to be devoted to Madden's) a breakfast tostada. Again scramble your egs and pile on top of a tostada shell with regular tostada toppings (I suppose you could try breakfast nachos- see earlier post).

In addition to breaking out of the breakfast box, as many of you guys also partake, we thoroughly enjoy having brinner (breakfast at dinner time...brinner). When blueberries are in season we have a tendency to eat fresh blueberry pancakes with blueberry syrup and venison sausage. It is a nice break from regular dinner food and Mattie and I do not always have time for big and delicious breakfasts so dinner is a good replacement!

Monday, October 6, 2008

I might despise the woman, but...

I might very well despise Giada DeLuerentis of the Food network. I am bothered by the fact that her hair, clothes, and perfectly manicured nails are the constant attention of the camera man. In fact I am quite sure that it is a camera MAN rather than camera woman because another part of her body is always showing up on my t.v.. I also rather dislike the way she speaks in a perfectly normal English/American accent except when it comes to certain foods, particularily cheeses. You can say ricotta or parmegiano oregiano correctly without pulling a forced Italian accent. Despite all of this, I really enjoy watching her cook. She tends to cook the way I do, simply and without a lot of measurements or rules. I watched her last weekend and decided that I would try one of her methods. Matt and I have a deep fondness for pasta, particularily with tomato sauce. That being said, once in awhile you want a delicious and rich cream sauce. Nine times out of ten I want to stick with the lucious red sauces, but lately had been feeling a stirring for creamy deliciousness. My main hold back however was a way to have a cream sauce without the guilt (and regret) that comes with downing a bowl of fettucine alfredo. Step one- add lots of veggies. If I am going to eat something I want to make sure it is going towards my recommended daily intake of something. Step two- get some protein. This step is more for Mattie than myself seeing as he is a carnivore to the "nth" (I wasn't sure how to type that out...and may be exhibiting my naivete) degree. We added sauteed chicken, scallops, and shrimp (just a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs de provence). Step three- boil pasta and steam asparagus at the same time...very cool trick to kill two birds with one stone! Step four- (the part that calls for help from Giada and cuts your fat dramatically) toss the pasta in the same pan as the meat and veggies with marscapone cheese. Once you add salt and pepper you have a wonderful and delightful meal. So despite my seething disdain for the Food Network star, she is a pretty good cook. And she is nowhere near as bad as Bobby Flay!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pizza! Pizza!

Thursday night we went to a pizza place that is very dear to my heart. I remember going to Fuzzy's (on Antoine) since at least middle school. I am aware of middle school because it is where I celebrated my birthday in 7th grade. We also celebrated my birthday there year before last, mom and Fred's birthday this year and Thursday we celebrated the birthday of Sarah F. (stands for freaking) Murphy. Fuzzy's pizza is indescribable. The pizza is not thin, but it is neither hand tossed or Chicago style either. It is a thicker crust, but is often so laden with toppings that the first few bites of pizza have to be consumed with knife and fork. Once you reach the last three inches or so of your slice it is then pick-up-able. The topping selection is tremendous. They are both fresh and bountiful on the pie of your choice. Matt and I really enjoy that Fuzzy's is the favorite Pizza place of George H.W. Bush. We always try to sit in the seats under his autographed pictures in hopes that one day we will be asked to move for H.W. himself. Hopefully at that point he would recognize me as the delightful young lady that waited on him at Cafe Eccell in 2006. He would also then notice that, yes, we were consuming the pizza named after H.W. and ask us to join him. Regardless of this event ever actually occurring, we do always order his namesake pizza. Besides the usual sauce and cheese, it is topped with pepperoni, sausage, bell peppers, onions, mushroom, ham, and the best addition that makes it different from any other supreme pizza- artichoke. Artichokes are quickly becoming one of my favorite foods so I rather enjoy that they are on one of my favorite non-Lombardi's pizza (oh...Lombardi's...more on Lombardi's some other time).  On this most recent visit because we were celebrating Sarah's birthday we indulged in dessert. Why, oh why had we not indulged before?!?! We ordered cheesecake (SMurphs favorite) and Chocolate cake (Matties favorite and becoming mine more and more each day). I have never tasted such wonderfully pure and simple desserts at a restaurant before. They were completely unpretentious, served to us in a plastic to-go container and styrofoam plate sans sauce or any other garnish. This my friends, is due to the fact that they needed nothing for them to stand out as top notch wonderfulness. The cheesecake was perfectly cheesey with a good thickness of moist graham cracker crust and a very rich but not gummy consistency. The chocolate cake knocked my socks off. It was pure, rich, almost dark but not quite, moist chocolate cake. It had a good amount of thick, fudgy icing without taking away from the actual cake. I had a predicament in deciding which to take my next bite out of. From this point on we will be ordering a slice of pizza each and saving room for dessert. The drink selection is appropriate for Matt and I seeing as we can order Shiner Bock (or a selection of other domestic bottled beers) to accompany our pizza. There is also wine and soda, but sadly no Smirnoff (sorry Smurph). 

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Ashley Howard and the Secret of the Nacho

I wanted to share a little trick with you guys that I remembered last night. Think about how you would make restaurant style nachos. I always wondered how Mexican food restaurants got the perfect little triangles for their nachos. Sometimes you want chips stacked high with toppings that will make an unbelievable mess and sometimes you want the nice, neat little triangles found in restaurant appetizers. Call it fate, call it destiny, call it that someone was far to drunk to show up for work thus my G.M. needed someone to cover a shift, but I was given one single opportunity to work a night kitchen shift at the appetizer and nacho station. I took the opportunity, not so much for the kitchen secrets but because I had a visitor arriving the next day and wanted the whole day off (it was you Martha!). Imagine my delight when I realized I would be learning the secret of the nacho! Can you imagine my delight...take a moment...think about me...Imagine my despair when I learned that the nacho is nothing but a big fat lie! It is not a nacho at all, but a tostada cut with a knife or pizza cutter into four delicious little triangles. I forgive the nacho, for it cannot help what it is, but I do feel a little duped by the whole concept. My entire childhood I imagined someone individually spooning beans, meat, and cheese onto each (specially made just for nachos) chips. Anyways...try it. Make your tostada (beans, meat, cheese, sauteed veggies- whatever), toast it up in the oven (be careful- they burn really fast), cut it up and enjoy! It works really well.

P.S. If you already knew the secret to the nacho...shame on you for not sharing...

Middle Eastern

On Sunday Matt and I went with my grandmother to try a middle eastern restaurant she loves. We went to the DeMassi's on Richmond. As we waited for her outside it was undecided whether we were smelling delicious garlic from DeMassi's or from the "fresh baked" loaves at the Subway next door. Once my grandmother arrived we opened the door. I was immediately taken back to my trip overseas this summer. I leaned over to Matt and told him, "this is what Israel smells back, but cleaner...and newer...". We paid for the meal (about $10 for the buffet which includes dessert and a drink) and proceeded to the line. The selection was a little overwhelming. I agree with a review that I read of the the restaurant that comments about the restaurant being a good place to start if you have never had any Middle Eastern food. We grabbed a little bit of everything and I was ready to descend back to my Israeli adventure. I will be honest, some of the stuff was great, some of the stuff was not so great. I was not a fan of the hummus. It had a very weird taste to it. Maybe I only like American hummus. The hummus in Israel tasted burnt and the hummus at this restaurant (supposedly owned and operated by a Syrian couple) had a strange flavor to it. Moving further down the line, the flat bread was soft, warm, and acceptable. I was a little confused by the okra stewed in tomatoes because I am pretty sure that I did not run into any okra in Israel, but they were delicous none the less. The three different kinds of rice seemed promising, but lacked a lingering mouthfeel that is often found with Middle eastern types (probably because of the copious amounts of oil often added). The meat selections were wonderful! I really enjoyed the lamb which was braised in a very light tomato and spice sauce. The pulled beef was good, kind of like a shredded barbeque (yum bbq) with Israeli spices. I enjoyed eating the pulled beef with the soft flatbread. The desserts were acceptable, but nothing to write home (or in a blog about). McKay if you read this, there is definitely better baklava out there! Soda selection was good and they brewed peach tea (ala (haha- Allah) Cafe Eccel). All in all, I am sure there are better Middle Eastern places out there, but for a starter place (or if you are hungry for a buffet) it is a good find.