Thursday, August 28, 2014

Secreto Secret Gourmet Suppers by ChefItYourself's Anamaris Cousins

Secret Suppers hosted by chefs have taken place on and off for years in different metropolitan areas.  Vancouver, BC has many well known secret suppers that are hosted by well known area chefs or by up and coming chefs, where you buy a ticket and meet at a venue that might be someone's condo or a closed restaurant/storefront and enjoy a more intimate dining experience with a small gathering of folks which turns out to be tons of fun.  Houston has been creating its own secret suppers in more recent years, and like Vancouver, they are run by either well known chefs for fans or by up and coming chefs who may be looking to start a restaurant or get hired, but don't have the body of experience in other restaurants and are building their resume by doing so.  Anamaris Cousins, though in the latter category, is a thorough professional who has picked my brain via Twitter on more than one occasion.  Recently, she was hosting another secret supper to which she invited me.  I was treated to some great Latin American delights crafted by her hands in her own kitchen with a group of about 10 other food lovers in a four course meal.  It was quite the experience to say the least!

But first a little background on Ms. Cousins.  Per her website, Chef it Yourself:
Chef Anamaris Cousins tells about the dishes
Being from Latin America and of Black descent, my cooking thumbprint has a Latin-Caribbean flair. Following on my mom’s footsteps, I too love the challenge of other cuisine styles, flavors and techniques. This means my cooking range is all over the map, you will not be bored. But the most important thing I want you to take away from visiting my blog, is that delicious food doesn’t have to be complicated and isn’t exclusive to Cordon Bleu graduates. WE can do it. YOU will have fun doing it. LET’S do it together.
Cocktail and Appetizers from Chef Cousins's Kitchen
Sounds  like a labour of love if you ask me!  We all gathered at Chef Cousins's home, which was nicely decorated with many prints that her artist husband had painted.  Some of these were nice geometric patterns which were like mixtures of Mondrian prints and some chromatic DNA spectrographs.  I liked them so well, I'm seriously considering buying one of his works in fact.  Chef Cousins served us a great cocktail called a Caipirinha made with a sugar cane liquor called Cachaça which shouldn't be confuse with rum, as it's flavour signature is sour, more like tequila and given the cocktail was made with muddled lime, it's flavour profile was like a Mexican margarita fused with a Mojito--a refreshing sour libation on a hot Summer's evening.  The appetizers included Bacalao  which is a croquette type dish which is breaded, fried and filled with salt cod.  We also enjoyed Pasteis de Queijo which are like a cheesy, savoury Sopapilla.  The Pasteis de Queijo were served in paper bags, which is the way they'd usually be served as they are a type of Brazilian Street Food and Chef Cousins wanted to give us that kind of a feel.  So far this dinner was very good and we'd only cleared the appetizer portion.  Grades: A, A, A+

Pancita al Pastor y Elota con Crema
Our second course was a Pancita al Pastor y Elota con Crema--a slow roasted, tender pork belly served with a Mexican style cream corn, and it was paired with a Quilmes, an Argentine Lager.  This was a generous portion of very tender, slightly smokey pork belly (where Bacon comes from!).  It was served with a savoury, slighlty sweet and spicy sauce which worked well with the sweet, fatty pork belly.  This was no salad!  I also found the corn to be sweet, creamy and a little spicy from the seasonings.  The lager beer, with it's more grainy notes with a hint of malt was a nice offset to the sweetness of the pork and the heat from the spices.  Grades: A+ for the dishes, A for the beer pairing.  

Risotto con Pollo
The third course was an interesting Risotto con Pollo--a chicken risotto in a creamy tomato saffron broth topped with chicken cracklings and paired with a Paul Hobbs Felino Malbec from Argentina.  I've had arroz con pollo Colombiana (the Colombian variety) and enjoyed it quite well, and I'm a fan of a good Risotto any day of the week.  This dish was like a mixture of a traditional Risotto, Riiz con Pollo and Paella.  The saffron added some spice, the fresh herbs gave it a nice texture and the chicken cracklings added a crunch that brought it home.  Although I usually don't drink red wine with a Chicken Dish, it wasn't a bad pairing and I found the Malbec to have those bold, mushroomy type undertones and mouth feel that gave it some substance.  Grade: A

Passion Fruit Napoleon
Chef Cousins also prepared us a dessert course--a passion fruit Napoleon made from crisp layers of puff pastry, passion fruit curd and cashew brittle, served with a Cava fruit spritzer.  This dessert was simply decadent.  The passion fruit curd was sweet and sour, creamy, and very rich.  The pastry was light, flakey and had a crystallized sugar essence to it.  It was topped with a thick cream and berries.  Simply magnificent!  The Cava spritzer was a little sour, very bubbly and an interesting offset to the sweeter dessert.  I'm usually more partial to coffee when I have such a dessert, but it was a nice change of pace.   Grades: A+  for the Napoleon, A- for the Spritzer.  

The dozen or so guests who were present for this Secret Supper were all food lovers.  Many of us were talking about new restaurants, chefs in the area we like, places we've traveled and found great food, and so forth.  I got a couple of new recommendations to try, and was able to share some of my own recs as well.  Overall it was a lovely evening.

I know Chef Cousins is using these Secret Suppers as a way for her to try out this profession before taking the full leap.  I give her kudos for not letting obstacles get in her way and finding ways to do it in a way that she is comfortable.  I would highly recommend that she try to find venues to serve more guests and perhaps hire some temporary service staff to open this up to a broader audience--perhaps investors who would help her get a small bistro up and running.  Based on the results of what we enjoyed that evening, Chef Cousins really loves cooking great food for great folks and exemplifies one of my ideals here:  Great Food and Great Folks in the Houston area and Beyond.  Thank you, Chef Cousins for a lovely dinner and giving me the opportunity to share this with my readers.

Eat Happy, Y'all!!!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A taste of Alamo Drafthouse's first year in Houston Restaurant Weeks

Dinner and a movie is a great thing.  It's even better when you can eat your dinner while you watch your movie.  While there are many such concepts all over the place, Alamo Drafthouse is one of the originals.  Besides being a great concept, Alamo Drafthouse is also showing great community spirit.  This year is their first year participating in Houston Restaurant Weeks.  And they're doing it with a well-designed menu that will appeal to movie and food lovers of all types.  My kids and I were wanting to close out the last week before they go back to school with Guardians of the Galaxy.  We've been busy moving to a newer house and wrapping up a bunch of things before going back to school and we needed a break. I also wanted to try the Vintage Park Location's HRW Menu and they gave us the opportunity to do it all.  

Dinner and a movie simultaneously would seem to be a big challenge.  Between special lighting and the use of white cards in a slot, it works like a Swiss watch a the Alamo Drafthouse in Vintage Park.  Usually for about 30 minutes there is a fully lit pre-show where you can talk with the server and place your order.  For Guardians of the Galaxy, they showed a mixture of Funny Raccoon videos and appearances of Rocket Raccoon in Marvel Cartoons in the past.  While this went on, my daughter enjoyed a refreshing glass of their Brown Sugar Lemonade while my son had a Root Beer Float made with Blue Bell Vanilla Ice Cream and Saint Arnold's Root Beer.  I had a Dr. Pepper since I was going to save my adult beverage consumption for the final course of their Houston Restaurant Weeks Dinner Menu!  This 3 Course Dinner for $35.00 gives  you a choice of appetizer, main dish and a dessert.  Throw in the movie ticket and you have a sweet dinner deal that helps the hungry as well.

Baked Soft Pretzel 
For the appetizer course, the choices are Bottomless Popcorn with real melted butter and a side of herbed Parmesan cheese, a Goat Cheese & Roasted Veggie Dip served with veggies & warm pita bread or a Baked Soft Pretzel served with honey mustard and warm hatch chile queso blanco.   Though the bottomless popcorn was VERY TEMPTING, I know myself well enough to know I'd eat too much popcorn and have no room for the other courses, so I went for the pretzel--which was rich, soft, bold and went so well with the cheese dip and the mustard--and was just enough to hold me over until the main course.  Grade: A
Brussels Sprouts & Goat Cheese Pizza

For the main course, your choices are a Brussels sprouts, smoked bacon & goat cheese Pizza (gluten free available) with mozzarella, black pepper, parmesan and pecorino; a Spicy Blue Cheese burger with Frank’s red hot, red onion and mayo served with french fries; Fish & Chips with beer battering, tartar sauce and malt vinegar; or a Greek salad (v) (gf) baby kale, arugula, feta, red onion, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, fried chickpeas, lemon basil vinaigrette--with this you can add chicken or it turn into wrap--served with tortilla chips and homemade salsa.  I love me a good pizza and the Brussels Sprouts are a great cruciferous veggie, so I went for it.  These Brussels Sprouts are roasted, a little salty and have crunch, working well wit the pungency of the goat cheese and the bacon adds more crunch and a little smokey sweetness.  Unusual pizza, full of great flavours and textures. Grade: A+

512 Pecan Porter Shake
The dessert choices for the third and final course are: Adult Shake of choice: includes a Mexican chocolate shake, a Maker’s Mark milk punch shake, an Irish coffee shake, 512 Pecan Porter Beer shake or a Southern Star Buried Batchet stout shake; OR a Saint Arnold root beer float made with vanilla ice cream; OR Three warm baked cookies of choice from what was available that day.  I went with the adult shake and chose the 512 Pecan Porter shake.  This is a nice blending of a thick, dark porter beer that has essences of Cacao and Pecan with Vanilla Ice Cream.  Not as sweet as a typical shake, a little fizzy, and a nice buzz from the beer as well.  Makes me want to come back and try the other great Adult Shake Choices too!  Grade: A+

Uncle Tex & Baby Raccoon came
for the movie!  
Suffice it to say, this was a great meal.  My kids enjoyed some snacks from their main menu and we all enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy, which is still running at this writing.  However, the HRW menu won't last beyond August, so if you've not been to the Alamo Draft House (which is a GREAT place for a movie date with your loved one, or your family--click the link for Houston locations and show times), then get on out there and be sure to tell them that Hank on Food highly recommended them!

Eat Happy, Y'all!!!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Preview: Saint Arnold's entry into the Brewmaster's Brewlicious Food and Beer Festival in Galveston

Saint Arnold's own Chef Ryan Savoie
Houston's Saint Arnold Brewing Co. is an institution that has been creatively brewing excellent craft beer for 20 years.  Besides brewing awesome beers, they also serve up great food in their restaurant for lunch and for pub nights.  Chef Ryan Savoie isn't shy about using whatever Saint Arnold's is available in creating wonderful recipes and their lunch service has grown tremendously as a result of great food from a Master Chef served with excellent craft beer.  Over the Labor Day weekend, Galveston's Moody Gardens will be hosting the Brewmaster's Craft Beer Festival, with a special sub-event of Brewlicious Brews and Food Pairing on Friday, August 29th.  Chef Savoy and Saint Arnold got in touch with me recently and asked if I would Preview their entry to this event.  Suffice it to say, Saint Arnold's calls, I try to come a running as fast as possible, and knowing how they operate, and being a fan of Chef Savoie's work, I knew it was going to be excellent stuff!!!  After a nice chat with Chef Savoie and with Josh Nelson of Saint Arnold's, I was ready to chow down.

First about the events:
Brewmaster's Beerfest
Beer Lovers Rejoice! The fifth annual BrewMaster's Craft Beer Festival is a unique multi-day event created for beer drinkers, learners, enthusiasts and experts. Home based at Galveston's Moody Gardens, this three-day weekend is all about beer and cheer, offering over 400 craft beers and culinary variety. The festivities will be throughout the 242 acres of botanical beauty with specialty events at various venues around Galveston Island. The three-day celebration will showcase two signature events: BrewLicious Brews and Foods Pairing and BrewHaHa Grand Tasting. There are a host of related events like the BrewMasters PubCrawl and Texas Brewery Tasting Tours. Featured activities include: live music and fireworks at Palm Beach, educational events, a slew of Brew Brains and industry experts including award-winning BrewMasters and home brewing masters.

Brewlicious Beer and Food Pairing
Date: Friday, August 29, 2014
Time: 7:00 - 10:00 pm
Price: $75 pp in advance
Location: The Frances Anne Moody Ballroom @ Moody Gardens

What's better than beer paired with great food? Bring your thirst and appetite over for the BrewLicious Brews & Foods Pairing. Don't miss this event with professional chefs and featured restaurants pairing specialty beers to compliment the delicious food. This spectacular evening is for the serious beer and culinary enthusiast. All kinds of high-end, premium, unique beers will be paired with food that is the perfect culinary accompaniment. All Guests must be at least 21 years old on the day of the event to enter the event. No small children or strollers will be admitted.
If this isn't an event for all of us Craft Beer Lovers, I'll be switched!  Anyway, I was more interested in checking out Saint Arnold's Offering--a spicy pulled pork sandwich topped with Saint Arnold's Weedwacker infused Kimchi.  From the description, it was a fusion approach to the traditional pulled pork sandwich, using a spicy Korean inspired kim chi instead of cole slaw.  Chef Savoie wasn't going to spill the beans on everything, and I wouldn't expect to.  However, what I got from him was that the pork was seasoned with his secret combination of spices and slow smoked over night.  Similarly, he gathered fresh veggies including crispy cabbage, carrots, mushrooms and hot peppers, along with more seasonings, and had them percolate in Saint Arnold's Weedwacker under proper temperatures for a good period of time.  The pork is served on a Challah long bun with the Kim chi on top and garnished with a spicy plum sauce.  Your nose gets teased with a spicy, sweet, sour and bitter essence, with a bit of heat before you even take the first bite.  When I took that first bite, I got a bit more heat--enough to singe, but not so much that I couldn't taste anything else.  This sandwich activates all your taste buds and nerve endings designed to get all of those flavours you can taste.  The pork is sweet and tender, the plum sauce sour, sweet and spicy, the Kim chi is mostly crispy, but also hits the bitter and salty sensors as well.  When you wash it down with the yeasty, unfiltered Kolsch/Hefeweizen fusion of the Weedwacker, the heat builds a little--not as much as it would with an IPA, but still, it's a nice effect and makes for a great pairing for sure.  Grade: A+ and likely to be very popular with the crowd on August 29th!

While I was there, Chef Savoie and Josh Nelson wanted me to remind y'all that Saint Arnold's has their expanded menu which has regular items, not just the special of the day like when they first started.  To that end, they suggested I try their Prime Rib French Dip with provolone, caramelized onions and au jus on a pretzel bun.  This tender Prime Rib Sandwich has that rich beefy aroma that the mild provolone and sweet caramelized onions was meant to be served with.  The pretzel bun is thick and soaks up the beefy au jus nicely.  Chef Savoie and Josh Ryan recommended it be paired with Saint Arnold's Brown Ale.  This is a rich, copper coloured malty slightly sweet brown ale.  Oddly, it's not as popular as some of their other year round beers, but it has a strongly loyal following among those who love it.  Those malty sweet essences meld so well with beef, I felt chastened to buy a six-pack on my next trip to HEB.  Definitely a satisfying sandwich for beef lovers.  Grade: Solid A

One last note:  Jason said that Mr. Moustache's Uncle Tex got to join us at Saint Arnold's.  As many of y'all on Twitter know, Uncle Tex appreciates a good craft beer and was notorious for his Bishop's Barrel Series Rhymes:

"Bishop's Barrel 1 is Totally Fun!
Bishop's Barrel 2 Don't mind if I do!
Bishop's Barrel 3 is just for me!
Bishop's Barrel 4? Shut the Front Door!
Bishop's Barrel 5 makes me feel alive!
Bishop's Barrel 6 is good for kicks!
Bishop's Barrel 7 put me in Heaven!"

Suffice it to say, everyone's favourite Boss of the Plains wearing Bad Piggie was totally happy to visit the folks at Saint Arnold, yet managed to show proper restraint when enjoying some samples in the tap room.

I want to thank Josh Nelson (who reminds me a bit of Jake from Fox-Tv's New Girl), Chef Ryan Savoie, and Kathy Colwell for hosting me and Uncle Tex.  And I wish them total success during Brewlicious on August 29th!!!

Drink Craft Beer AND Eat Happy Y'all!!!