Underbelly: The Story of Houston Food

Most Fridays, my co-workers and I enjoy trying different Houston restaurants. I had read about Underbelly in Bon Appetit’s top 50 new restaurants in the U.S. and wanted to check it out. The restaurant is described as “the story of Houston food” and has intriguing dishes on the menu. Some of the dishes we tried were the Butter Biscuits and Chicken Gravy (pictured) and Korean Braised Goat and Dumplings. We also tried a fried strawberry pie and a what I believe was a beet flan with a honey brittle. The food was excellent and I will definitely be going back. One of the things that makes the dining experience so wonderful is the design of the restaurant. As soon as I walked in, I thought “I want my kitchen to look like this someday.” Guests sit at handcrafted tables and chairs and have a view of the open kitchen. Canned goods, wine glasses and kitchen items are displayed on beautiful wooden shelves throughout the main dining room.

Chocolate Pudding with Almonds

Sometimes there’s nothing like a classic, comfy dessert like chocolate pudding. Alex Guarnaschelli’s Chocolate Pudding with Almonds is the perfect way to end a cozy home cooked meal. A scoop of the rich chocolate, fresh whipped topping and fried almonds is the perfect bite.

Pudding:

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk, divided
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon dark rum

Whipped cream:

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Almond topping:

  • 4 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • Kosher salt

Pudding:

In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, cocoa powder, salt and warm water. Whisk to blend and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate, 1 cup heavy cream and 1 cup of the milk. Stir to blend and bring the mixture back to a gentle simmer on low heat.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and the remaining 1/4 cup of milk until the mixture is smooth. Stir the cornstarch into the simmering chocolate mixture and continue cooking it over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens, 3 to 5 minutes. From time to time, use a whisk to blend the pudding and assure that it is not sticking to the bottom or sides and scorching as it cooks. Remove from the heat. Taste and add the vanilla and rum. Pour the pudding into a large bowl (or, if preferred, individual coffee cups) and cover tightly with plastic wrap so a skin doesn’t form on top of the pudding. The plastic wrap should directly touch the top of the pudding in the bowl or cups. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Whipped cream: In a medium bowl whisk the cream until thick. Alternatively, use the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk in the sugar and vanilla until blended. Taste for sweetness and refrigerate until ready to use.

Almond topping: When ready to serve, heat the oil in a medium skillet over low heat. When the oil begins to smoke lightly, add the almonds. Cook them, stirring, from time to time, until they turn golden brown, about 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them from the skillet to a paper towel or a kitchen towel to drain off excess oil. Season with salt, to taste.

Remove the pudding from the refrigerator, discard the plastic wrap and sprinkle with the almonds. Top with dollops of the whipped cream or serve the cream on the side. Serve immediately.

Food Truck: H-Town StrEATs

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I went with my co-worker to check out a new food truck called H-Town StrEATs last week. We sampled some interesting and delicious fare including Grilled Kangaroo with Apricot Wattleseed Chutney, Wonton Stuffed with Austalian Rock Lobster and Sea Urchin with a Yuzu Marmalade Sauce and Barramundi Fillets wrapped in Banana Leaf with Chinese Black Bean and Sambal.

Scallops Provencal

Ina Garten is my go to person for delicious recipes. Her Scallops Provencal are no exception. They are simple and full of flavor.

Scallops Provencal

  • 1 pound fresh bay or sea scallops
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • All-purpose flour, for dredging
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup chopped shallots (2 large)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 lemon, cut in 1/2

Directions

If you’re using bay scallops, keep them whole. If you’re using sea scallops, cut each 1 in half horizontally. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss with flour, and shake off the excess.

In a very large saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter over high heat until sizzling and add the scallops in 1 layer. Lower the heat to medium and allow the scallops to brown lightly on 1 side without moving them, then turn and brown lightly on the other side. This should take 3 to 4 minutes, total. Melt the rest of the butter in the pan with the scallops, then add the shallots, garlic, and parsley and saute for 2 more minutes, tossing the seasonings with the scallops. Add the wine, cook for 1 minute, and taste for seasoning. Serve hot with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Chicago Deep Dish Pizza – Uno’s

When I was on my way to my niece’s birthday party in Wisconsin in January, I got stuck in Chicago because of the weather. My connecting flight was cancelled and I was lucky enough to have a place to stay in my father-in-law’s downtown apartment. It was late, I was by myself and it was a blizzard outside, but I decided to go out and get some pizza. My husband recommended that I go to Uno’s, which just so happened to be right around the corner from the apartment. I sat at the bar and made friends with the bartender and ate my first Chicago style deep dish pizza. The pesto pizza was out of this world – the crust is buttery and flaky and the pesto, tomato and melted cheese combine to make it the perfect bite. It takes 45 minutes to make the pizza but it’s worth the wait.

Barefoot in the kitchen: Greek Salad

I love Ina Garten and her simple, yet flavorful, style of cooking. A friend and I had a cooking day where we made Greek inspired dishes and one of them was Ina’s Greek Salad. The salad is light but hearty at the same time and is a must have for Greek night.

Greek Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 red bell pepper, large-diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, large-diced
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced in half-rounds
  • 1/2 pound feta cheese, 1/2-inch diced (not crumbled)
  • 1/2 cup calamata olives, pitted

For the vinaigrette:

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup good red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil

Directions

Place the cucumber, peppers, tomatoes and red onion in a large bowl.

For the vinaigrette, whisk together the garlic, oregano, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Still whisking, slowly add the olive oil to make an emulsion. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables. Add the feta and olives and toss lightly. Set aside for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature.

Hama Chili: Azuma Sushi and Robata Bar

I recently ate and photographed several dishes at Azuma Sushi and Robata Bar in West University Place, Texas for a piece I was working on. It was so fun photographing the Hama Chili appetizer and eating it too. The dish is made with thinly sliced yellowtail, spicy ponzu, diced chilis, chili powder and garnished with edible flowers.