Thursday, August 17, 2017

Cheesecake Factory - Desktop Cafe

We had a late work night so we ordered in...
... Since I had a large lunch, I went for a flatbread, which turn out to be bigger than I though.  This is the Skinnylicious Roasted Pear and Blue Cheese Flatbread.  I like it that the blue cheese is not over empowering and I love the arugula and cartelized onions and pecans.  The whole thing is true to the Skinnylicious brand, you don't feel too much but just enough to tie you over.  No protein on this but for a small bite, it's just right.

Cheesecake Factory
Houston Galleria
5015 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77056

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

HRW: Xochi

It wasn't that long ago that I was at Xochi.
 This time, came back for Houston Restaurant Week.

 They had 4 menus to choose from.  While I do like the variety and choices, you can't cross menus, and there are too much decision to make.  A few minutes to look over the menu was just not enough.
 To start, I had the Fruit Mojito... of course it has rum, mint, fruit, lime, simple syrup, and soda water. The alcohol content was pretty high, I can feel it pretty quickly.  I will say, it is super refreshing for a 100 degree day, so it helps cool you off, for sure.  
 I got the Agave Menu, and Amuse Bouche course was Queso de Rancho, which came with pork rind  with avocado tomatillo sauce.  The cheese is a homemade cincho with grasshopper... yes, you read it right.  I didn't know it, and thought it was crunchy, but as I was going back to read the menu, that's how I realized what it was.  Let's say, this was a better experience with the grasshopper this round than last time. 
 Tamal de Duranzo - which is peach tamal with peach chutney.  My thing is that this is too corn for me, and I can't taste much of the peach.  It looks pretty but doesn't like it look.  It does have a kick to it, so be careful.
 This fancy dish is Cochito Ismento - which is pork shank wrapped in bacon, with pineapple (hiding in the back) that comes with roasted potato and side of spinach.  Let me tell you, this is a lot of food. The pork is nicely done, not dry, the bacon was a bit much, and I say that with pain because I do love me some bacon.  The potato is yummy but fills you up.  The spinach can be a tad softer and more juice.
Dessert, perhaps is one of my favorite: Almond Cake.  It has gin infused ice cream, dried pepper rubbed apricot, and oxacan cheese.  I can't taste the cheese, but between the ice cream, apricot and cake, it was delicious.  Not too heavy, not too filling.  Light and filling.  Super good with the summer heat.

They do offer a wine pairing for 3 of the 4 course meals.  For $28, it's actually a good deal, seeing that you would pay more than that for 3 glasses of wine.  I didn't do the pairing, since I'm a light weight, but definitely an option for you.  Since this is 4 course, technically, they charge $45 for the set.  It's actually pretty fun to see what the table next to you got and do some comparison. 

When you get there, if you have time, try to get lucky and see if you get any street parking, especially for dinner, a lot of downtown folks clears out, and you can pay the meter till 6p and after that is free.  Or, valet, but inform them that you're there for the restaurant, so they don't mistakenly charge you $29.  Or, when you get to the restaurant, let the server know, they can add that to your tab, which is good for 3 hrs.  

inside Marriot Marquis Downtown
1777 Walker St
Houston, TX 77010

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

HRW: 51Fifteen

My Houston Restaurant Week second visit is 51Fifteen for lunch.
 51Fifteen has since renovated and address technically isn't 5115 anymore, but they kept the name since it already has a reputation.  
 I again started with Ceasar, which this one is tossed because they gave you slices of romaine lettuce instead of half of it.  With shaved parmesan and croutons.  It was already delicious, wonder what will come next.
 I got the grilled chicken and brie club...
 ... I was lured by the brie mix in a club sandwich.  So, a closer look, you get fresh chicken grilled, bacon, onions, poblano pepper spread and some greens.  It was a lot of food, ended up taking half of it home for leftovers.  

I like that the chicken is fresh and the combo between the cheese, the pepper spread, and the bacon, all went well together, that was a delightful discovery.
 For dessert, I got the white chocolate bread pudding.

I will say this, my lunch companion had good looking steaks that made me envy.  So, I learn that next time, try not to order bread, bread, and more bread... what can I say?  My eyes were bigger than my stomach, as usual...Shake My Head.

Typically for lunch, they give you 2 courses, but some of them give you 3, which for $20 lunch, it's a great deal.  Of course, you have to pace yourself too.  Highly recommend you make a reservation for this place because while it's non- Restaurant Week they are packed.  Yes, mostly ladies who lunch, but also a lot of business lunches going on as well.  So, book either online or by phone.

5135 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77056

Monday, August 14, 2017

HRW: Cafe Azur

My Houston Restaurant Week this year started with Cafe Azur. 
 They took over the old Max & Julie spot on Richmond & Montrose.
 First course: Ceasar Salad, it's grilled which is not what you usually see, and they cut the romaine long way, topped with slices of shaved parmesan and 2 round of bacon, which at first I thought they brought us tomato, which is uncommon but luckily it was bacon, whew!  They didn't douse the caesar dressing, just lightly drizzled, so you still get the taste but not overwhelmingly so.
 This is their squid ink risotto.  A lot of people were turned off by the squid ink.  Honestly, beside visual effect, it doesn't taste much different than a well done risotto to me.  Maybe my tastebuds hasn't been that refined but honestly just good risotto.  Of course they included squid, which also freaked a lot of people out, since it's not battered and fried; but to me, it was fresh and that's all I cared about.  And couple slices parmesan to boot.  Pretty tasty over all dish.  You don't feel over stuffed yet satisfying.
This is the Apple Jalapeno Crumble, which also scared a lot of people away mainly that apple and jalapeño don't usually go together.  The apple slices are cold but it cooked in a sauce that has jalapeño in it.  So when you eat it, it has a little spicy kick as it goes down.  Of course, you have the crumble part of the dessert to neutralizes the taste.  Very smooth going down.

This was a great experience.  First off, the staff are all polite and super accommodating to a group of 8.  They remembered everyone's order and made special accommodations for those who have different tastes.  Now, it was a Sunday evening that we went and it wasn't super crowded, but they were busy.  They came and checked on us, recommended various drinks and took really good care of us.  So between the food and service, this will be hard to top.  Looking forward to coming back after Restaurant Week.

Cafe Azur
4315 Montrose Blvd
Houston, TX 77006

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Mixology Class with Elle Talk

So, another class at the Toast & Twirl Workshop was Mixology.
 Frankly, I only drink a handful of drinks, so it'll be cool to learn about some alternatives.
 She was so thoughtful to put together a list for a basic bar, explain the spirits and the type of glass.  A lot of great tips.
 This is Michelle, Elle for short, lifestyle blogger, Mixology teacher.
 First drink: Berry Smashed, you do smash the berries (which are strawberries, blueberries, blackberries) with lemon, whiskey.  And even the garnish is pretty and say PARTY!  I'm not a big whiskey fan, but this tasted good.
 Next up: a Tiki Drink... cool, never had Curacao before.
 ooooh, aaaaahhh...
 This is a cross between Tiki and a Moscow Mule, so it's a Tiki Mule.  Actually, without the Ginger Beer, switch the Vodka with rum, you do have a really good drink already.  But to make it 'mule' the ginger beer kick it up a notch.  Pretty cool and delish!
The last drink: Secret Garden, because it has some floral in it.  Not only that, this is the first time I've ever used baking dust (edible glitter) into a drink.  It does pour with sparkle for sure.
 We made 3 drinks in an hour or so.  Not bad, since between drinks a bunch of us went and take pictures as they prep for the next drink.  It was super fun, well thought out and have education.  Like variation of whiskey, vodka, and gin.  Luckily, we had lunch before class, so got some padding before the drinks.  It's so nice to learn some different and classy drinks, so I don't have to be boring when I go out anymore.

Elle Talk

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wink by Erica

By pure accident, discovered the Toast & Twirl workshop.  It was an all day, crafty, trendy, and fun workshop.
One of the session was Donut Decorating taught by Wink by Erica.
I love going to cooking classes, they prep everything for you, and you get to make the mess and someone else is cleaning up for you. 
This is Erica, she does custom desserts, having a party?  Call her
She already baked the donuts, and taught us how to make glazed... cute!
And of course sprinkles, so cute that even Homer Simpson would be jealous.  I just loved the pearlized sprinkles, it's something different and you don't get every day.  (psst: you can get that from Michael's).
Same process, we decorated cactus donuts.  Very creative.
This is a white chocolate based glaze, and you have to work fast, otherwise, things won't stick on top.  Thank goodness she had us practice the eyes before doing it for real on the donut.  Alas!  Unicorn donuts.
She was so thoughtful to give us a box to take our goodies home.
All the decor is so pretty at the workshop that you have to just take tons of pictures.

So Erica had made it very simple and straight forward for us newbies.  She also does macarons, cake pops, and cookies.  Not only that, if you want some pretty dessert stand but don't want to buy one, she offers to rent them.  So, definitely worth checking out.

Wink by Erica

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Morningside Thai

This is actually my first time at the new location for Morningside Thai...
... you know, not on Morningside (near Rice Village).
My friend ordered fish cakes to share.  Fish cakes aren't atypical at all, but it is my first time having it with pickles and it's actually pretty refreshing.
My favorite, Thai Iced Coffee, needed a bit of caffeine to help stay up past bed time.
Saw on their specials that they have crab fried rice, had to try it.  Purposely did not gorge myself, so I can save room for dessert.
Mango sticky rice.  The sticky rice is a type of grain that cooks sticky.  They use coconut milk instead of water to cook it.  And topped with Mango slices.  YUMMO!  Is this the best coconut stick rice with Mango I've ever had no.  But since I haven't had it for such a long time that this is a close third (second is Thai Gourmet).  

Morningside Thai Restaurant
2473A S. Braeswood
Houston, TX 77030

Monday, August 7, 2017

Ciao Bello

Went to Ciao Bello for a work dinner.
We started off with a cold cut plate, which has salami, prosciutto, grilled pepper, cheese of 3 types and 2 kinds of olive.

 We got the side room of the places, which is pretty much the length of the restaurant.
 This is a carb-lovers dream, bread, bread, and more bread.
 I got the grilled Cesar to start.  It's unique in that they have lettuce leaves, grilled, topped with shredded parmesan, with anchovy (which to me is the best way), and you just cut.  It's a huge mount of cheese, but not a lot of fish, so it's not over empowering.
 For entree, I got the scollop, it's not bad, but I kinda regret not getting the Lobster Risotto when I saw someone else got it.  The scallops are fine, the sauce was a tad spicier than I care to be.  The risotto that accompanied the dish, was so-so.  Like I said, I kinda regret not getting the Lobster Risotto. 
For dessert, I got the Strawberry Cassata, which is an angel food cake with ricotta cheese and of course strawberries.  Amazingly, it is super light, you don't feel like you need to be wheeled out of there, but the portion is huge, great for sharing.

From what we understand, while they take walk-ins, it's best to make a reservation.  Parking is not exactly an issue, they have reserved spots for the restaurant, and plenty of parking outside.

Ciao Bello
5161 San Felipe
Houston, TX 77056

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Macaron Class - Central Market

It's been a while since I attended a macaron class.  (Warning: picture heavy) 
It's also been a while since I've made any at home, so decided to give it a kick start.  Plus, this is the only one in the city that teaches savory macs, so it peaked my interest.
This is the teacher, Rebecca Betrand, this is her side hustle and she makes macs for orders and teaches here.
 I can't get over how cute these mats are, they are Blue Drop mats.  They already have the bear and heart shape imprinted on top of the circle.  If you are getting it for the circles, it's about 1.5inches.
Here's all your necessary dry ingredients and tools that goes with it.  Sifter (super important), bowl to hold the sifted flour, spatula, spoon, pipping bag, a holder of some kind, and a big bowl for trash, of course parchment paper.  If you don't have a silicon mat, you can always bake with parchment paper.

Rebecca recommends sifting it 3 times, that's a bit much for me.  I don't disagree with 2, but I'm usually lazy and just do 1.  She did say you can lose up to 1tsp of ingredients and won't lose the integrity of the recipe.
Let's Whip It!  There's about 3.25 egg whites in this mix, along with cream of tartar and sugar.  Whip It, Whip It Good!

She uses Icing Food Coloring gel while the mixer is going, nice and clean and no toothpicks necessary.  She also put some flavoring in there too.  So the shell already flavored.
After combining the dry ingredient with the wet ones... Of course, like many, you divide your dry ingredient in 3s and incorporate one third at a time.  But something neat she taught was that you do your mixing, 10-12 time each add and at the end, do a figure 8 stir to make it ribbon faster, that's a first that I've heard, must try it.  
 Here's the teacher demonstrating the art of piping.
The left 3 rows were mine... they came out a tad too big...
Then you garnish, we have poppyseed here, go easy.
It's rested and baked... eek, they're holding hands.... Oops....

It's interesting that she let it rest for 40 mins, that's a very long time, but as you're making the filling, guess that's all good.  
Look! There's feet or Pied!

As usual, word of the wise, the time they tell you in class is not necessary the same as the one you'll get at home, just because your home oven is different.  So, we tell people try 9-10mins to start and then see if that works, add or subtract as you get to know your oven.
 These macs were filled with Goat Cheese/Cream Cheese combo with fig preserve.  It's different, I was hoping that she gives a recipe of a cut sugar for the savory.  Instead, she just makes the filling a tad stronger to overcome the sugar.  

But she did provide a neat idea that if you don't have enough shells, you can do half shells and treat them as canapés as appetizers.  I would add that you can slice a thin piece of salmon to add on top of the cheese combo.
 We decorated with edible glitter.  YUM!  It's different, but neat.
 Second flavor, Pecan shell with salted caramel.  I've known that you can replace the almond nut with other dry such as unsweetened coco powder, matcha (green tea) powder.  Or other nuts, such as pistachio, hazelnut, but pecan is a first for me.   The filling is Salted Caramel, but it's neat that she did a whipped version of it, which I've never tried before.  It taste good and not sticky to your teeth!
 Another tip about decorating macs: you can line your piping bag with some sauce.  It can be chocolate sauce, or coffee sauce, any sauce that's kinda thick will do.
 It came out pretty on the shell and bakes well.  Basically, this is espresso with espresso buttercream.  The teacher was saying that when she's blending the flour, she put a tsp of espresso coffee in the mix, so it's not over-empowering but you add a kick to a plain one.

The buttercream recipe is very versatile, you can whip up the basic and add flavors for different things, up to your imagination.  I just wish it's a smaller version, because it makes alot when you do it at home.  Anyone need buttercream for cakes? 
Here's the lemon poppyseed with lemon curd filling.  I've never been a big lemon fan, but the curd is not too zesty that I don't mind it.  It is refreshing for the summer, and not too much of a hassle to make.
Here's the final products.  You do get to take home the excess.  Unlike Sur La Table, you have to eat it all because Central Market has license to sell food, so it's not unusual to take a box of cookies home. But SLT won't let you.  That's what I like about this place.

This is definitely a great intro to macaron class.  Rebecca is super down to earth and friendly.  She doesn't judge if you say macaroon vs. macaron.  Not talking over your head and constantly provide great tips of what we can do at home.  She teaches here once a month, so catch her classes.

Central Market Cooking Class
3815 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX