Blog of an aspiring foodie

Archive for May, 2005

Canned chili – dinner of champions (or workaholics)

Posted by beer_chris on 12-May-2005

Since starting my new job in March, I've been working some long hours (~60/week), and cooking has been absolutely last on the list for activities. Additionally, I've been on a low-cal, low-fat diet since I got back from Tahoe (mid-March), and so haven't really had the luxury of pigging out like I usually do when I work long hours.

Early this year at Randall's I was invited to try Bush's new chili, from the Bush Beans people. It was pretty good, and I bought a jar. Since then, it's really become my default meal of choice. I really like the 'hot' version with beans (a terrible thing, beans in chili, especially in Texas, but it's quite good). Surprisingly, canned chili is not bad diet food – the fat grams are kind of high, but if I plan for it I can manage it and still keep my fat cals under 25% – and total calories are right at 5 or 6 hundred, depending on whether I put a little cheese on top.

Now that I am working significant hours, I keep a few jars at my desk, and have been eating it for dinner 3-4 times a week. At this rate I may turn into chili. In any case, I've branched out from Bush's, but have always come back. Here's my analysis of the various chilis I have tried (not especially foodie-like to analyze brands of canned chili, but it's the food topic that has dominated my mind lately)

Bush's (Hot with beans) – spicy, in a good way, with pepper and jalapeno. Chunks of tomato, and 'chili' ground meat (ground, but in chunks – and real ones, held together because the meat was cut that way, not because some type of powdered meat was reconstituted). Tomato flavor of sauce is strong, and beans are mixed – some red, some pinto, some small cream pork and beans style. Well balanced and flavorful, doesn't have the 'tinny' flavor of Wolf's or that weird fat coating like Hormel does. 500 calories/serving

Campbell's chunky – no beans, but thin and metallic tasting. Comes in it's own heat and serve container – a plus, but just not enough oomph to win me over. Cheaper then Bush's, but for a reason. 400 calories/serving

Stagg's chunky – no beans. Sauce like cocktail sauce mixed with ketchup, rather insipid. The meat was like Hormel – creamy tasting, with a weird fatty aftertaste, kind of like meat coated in Crisco. Gross. 550 calories/serving.

For comparison sake:
2 alarm chili kit (cook at home with ground beef and rice) – thick, spicy, and meaty. Fresh tasting, not too fatty, with a thick sauce, almost no sauce at all, more like a coating (it's the masa that thickens it). Rough chopped canned tomatoes add some texture and fresh tomato flavor. Extra red pepper spices it up just right. Some of the best chili worth eating. No beans. Simply ridiculous number of calories per serving, as I can't eat this without rice and cheese.

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Stuff is growing…

Posted by beer_chris on 11-May-2005

My yard is turning into a regular culinary experiment. The sweet and regular basil that died back this winter is growing again. The jalapeno pepper bush that I cut back in January has sprouted back again, healthy as ever. Every bed we haven't cleaned out is filled with broadleaf chocolate mint (that stuff is darn prolific), my loquat trees have finally relinquished all of their fruit, and I have a wild strawberry vine growing in the backyard.

This doesn't even count the small wild onions that came up last month, the banana tree and the muscadine grapevine and bitter orange tree in my neighbor's yard – AND – that's just what we aren't cultivating on purpose.

Included in the on-purpose food is our Meyer lemon tree (sad as it may be) and the half-dozen tamarind seeds I planted a few weeks ago, along with my hop vines (which are finally coming up, 6 weeks after planting the rhizomes)

Hopefully I'll have some time this weekend to complete my herb garden, and can sow my tomatoes. I've also been really interested (ever since sowing the tamarind seeds) in growing a bay tree from seed (apparently VERY hard) and perhaps growing an olive tree as well.

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Texas Crab Festival

Posted by beer_chris on 8-May-2005

Well, since the Rockets set a record by losing a playoff seventh game by 40 points tonight, I'll try to get my mind off the carnage by reporting a bit on the Texas Crab Festival – an event held in Crystal Beach every Mother's Day weekend that I've been wanting to head out to for a few years now – never really worked out timing wise until this year. I was able to talk my Mom, Dad and Jaime into heading out to the festival today.

The food was unique and downright good, which I guess is the whole point of something like this. Entry fees were $7, which considering the prices of the food once you got in were actually a bit high. However, the musical entertainment was good, with a constant lineup of performers on the main stage at Gregory park in Crystal Beach. My Dad's not one to sit and listen to music, so I wasn't able to enjoy the performances as much as I might have liked (I also didn't have a chair, which made sitting and enjoying much of anything a little bit difficult).

Started the day off with a batch of 'Mr. T's' barbecued ribs on a stick, $5. Basically, pork riblets grilled on skewers and mopped in BBQ sauce. Not bad, but not great either. Jaime ordered lemonade at a non-unique (i.e. nothing out of the ordinary, food-wise – just sausage on a stick and turkey legs) stand, but the lemonade was actually fresh squeezed in front of us, and was super good. $3 for about a 20 oz cup. On top of this, the booth gave $2 refills if you brought back the cup (which she did a number of times).

After looping around the food area again and thoroughly enjoying the backing music of Lil' Bit and the Customatics, we found the crab side of the food booths. I had a softshell crab sandwich ($5), which is basically like eating an entire crab, shell and all, on a bun. I also spoke with the booth workers, who were actual crabbers from Bolivar, and they explained the techniques behind softshell crabbing. Contrary to what I thought, May is really nothing special for crab season, other then it being the beginning. Basically, crabbing is good all summer long – as long as the water is warm. Catching softshell crab is also done all year (again, something I thought happened mainly in the late spring), and is a bit of a timing issue. The process starts with catching crabs in the wild, and sorting out the ones that are about to molt (crabs have to molt in order to grow, as the outer carapace cannot get larger, but the crabs body can and does). A softshell crab is a normal crab that has molted within the previous 48 hours – during this period, the crab's 'new' shell is soft – soft enough to eat, actually. Before the molting begins, the crab's shell begins to open up ever so slightly. The crabber looks for this, and isolates these individuals so that they can be harvested at exactly the moment when the molting takes place. Then they get deep fried and put on a bun, and voila – crab sandwich.

After the crab sandwich I found a booth selling barbecued crabs – basically, crabs grilled over a smoke fire and covered in BBQ sauce. Because I didn't have any kind of tool to crack shells, I wasted some claw meat – but for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed the smoky, BBQ flavor of the rich lump crabmeat, nice and sweet like early season blue crab generally tastes like. The half dozen I got was $9, and came with a warning to avoid the sharp spines on the outer part of the crab's body – a good warning for first timers. The first time I ever ate crab I sliced the he** out of my fingers on these spines. I was a little more careful this time, and only poked my thumb once.

My Mom bought a unique dish – crab nachos ($5). These were simply ballpark nachos with about a half pound of fresh lump crabmeat piled on top. Really good – I wish it was something I could get at a movie theater or at an Astros game. This dish at home probably would have cost at least $12, just for the crabmeat. Because crabmeat has to be 'picked' from the shell, harvesting is a manual process, and so the meat is pretty expensive.

I walked back to the cajun side of the food area to get another beer and get Jaime a refill on lemonade, and walked up to a place selling something called 'pistolettes'. I asked what these were, and was told they are some type of cajun/French roll, similar to a pastry roll (with layers of buttery dough making a flaky roll). The rolls are called 'pistolettes', and in coon-ass country are stuffed with different items and deep fried. I ordered a crawfish and cheese pistolette ($2.75), and it was pretty darn good.

Once I finished my beer, I walked up to a root beer stand – the husband-wife team running it apparently make the Texas festival rounds, as they were from Tyler but talked about making the 'circuit' with the root beer trailer behind them. The booth had a poster describing how the owner's grandfather had shown him how to make root beer, and indeed it's one of the very few times I've had root beer off of a tap. It was pretty good ($3 for a 12 oz mug).

So all in all it was a good trip. Unique food, good prices, good music – not much more you can ask for from a small town festival.

On the way back, we stopped at Milt's seafood in Port Bolivar, a small seafood packing house that also houses a general store where seafood (and especially shrimp) caught fresh in the bay can be purchased off the boats that dock right outside in the intracoastal waterway. I spoke to my mother, and next year we want to rent a beach house for the weekend in Crystal, spend Friday night, head out to Milt's when they open to pick up the freshest shrimp we can get, and then barbecue them for lunch, maybe make some gumbo as well. Later, we'll head over to Gergory park with some lawn chairs, sit and enjoy the music and eat crabs all night.

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Greenspoint restaurants – Phase 1

Posted by beer_chris on 5-May-2005

I recently moved jobs to the Greenspoint area, and have been on a quest to find some of the same great, cheap lunch places I learned to love in Baytown. Here's a current accounting:

Rocky's Subs (Greens Rd & 45 next to the Kroger)
Pretty darn good cheesesteaks at a reasonable price. A 10 inch sandwich with white American cheese and about a pound of shredded lean beef (sirloin?), along with a 8 oz bag of Fritos and free-refill Diet Pepsi is ~6 bucks. Buy it on Tuesday (when it is on special), and it's yours for $5.25. I usually get the hot pepper cheesesteak, which comes with some jalapenos in the meat. They have Italian subs, but these are made with cooked salami and canned ham with Italian dressing – no sopresetta or mortadella, and certainly no basalmic vinegar. They also have pizzas although I haven't yet tried them. I hit this place a few times a week.

Amos' Caribbean Kitchen
Little Jamaican place, looks new, on Imperial Valley in the 'Food Town' shopping center. I had jerk chicken dinner with red beans and rice, about $6.50 for that plus iced tea. About a pound to a pound and a half of chicken – not bad, and the spices were really good – hot, spicy, rich, just like I would expect. Have only been here once, but will come back.

Cajun Town
This place is in the same center as Amos', and was written up in the Press a few weeks ago. The owner is a former busboy/waiter/cook/manager at Pappadeaux, and many of the same approaches to food remain, although the service is walk-up, not sit-down. Had Boudin and rice, $5 (not bad) with a drink. OK. Might come back, but it was kind of busy for the food quality.

Huetamo Taqueria
On Aldine Bender and Imperial Valley. Classic hole-in-the-wall Taq. Chips and FANTASTIC red salsa on the table – had refrescas, but no tamarindo, so I didn't try any (I really wanted tamarindo – they had pina, but I passed on that – not a big fan of pineapple with my salsa). Typical Taq menu, with meat choices that could be put into tacos a-la carte or as tortas. They advertised pork al pastor, not something you see everywhere, so I ordered a torta, and was not disappointed. Not as good as Ricardos in Baytown, but quite tasty. Total charge – $2.50 for a 7″ torta with guac and chips and salsa. What a steal! This place also has nopalitos on the menu, so I'll be trying those as well.

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