Christmas is just one week away, but don't fret. There is still time to shop for that special foodie in your life. Restaurant gift cards and gift baskets are always appreciated by food lovers, but this year think outside the box. I've listed a few suggestions that even the pickiest bon vivant in your life will absolutely love.
Must Have Appliances
I have to admit, I'm a little late to the Instant Pot game. I purchased mine a year ago for Black Friday and was frankly a little terrified of it. Flash forward to today and I use my Instant Pot at least 2 to 3 times a week. The Instant Pot comes in three different sizes - 3 QT, 6 QT and 8 QT. The 6 QT is the perfect size for most families. It can pressure cook, slow cook, saute and even make yogurt. It retails for $79.99 to $139.99 and you can get great deals at most department stores. Walmart has an exclusive 6 QT Pioneer Woman floral version available in two different patterns for $99.
Another appliance it took forever for me to purchase was a stand mixer. I felt there wasn't anything it could do that I couldn't accomplish with my trusty hand mixer. Boy was I wrong! A stand mixer is a kitchen miracle worker. A KitchenAid stand mixer will run anywhere from $200 - $500 depending on what power and size bowl you purchase. The best thing about owning a stand mixer is the multitude of attachments you can purchase that will allow you to make pasta, sausage and even ice cream. My only regret was not getting a fun vintage color.
The Aviary is Chicago's hottest cocktail bar and the recently released The Aviary Cocktail Book is one of the greatest cocktail books of all time. This visually stunning book takes a culinary approach to making cocktails. It includes over 100 recipes as well as information on food & drink pairings, low/non-alcoholic drinks and flavored ice. The book is available online at TheAviaryBook.com. The standard edition retails for $85 or you can purchase a reserve edition in a special display case for $135.
In Street Food of Mexico, James Beard award winner Hugo Ortega takes readers on a culinary journey across Mexico. As he travels through his homeland, Ortega showcases the stories behind the flavors and recipes of each region. The book can be found on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or for $60 a personalized copy is available from ChefHugoOrtega.com that includes a Mexican chocolate tablet, a molinillo and two Hugo's mugs.
Hotel Alessandra is downtown Houston's newest luxury hotel. It is conveniently located near major sporting, concert and theater venues as well as the best bars and restaurants. The hotel offers several great packages for romance, sports, theater or spa. Most packages include food and beverage credit at Lucienne or the sophisticated lobby bar, Bardot.
CityCentre is a mecca for dining and shopping and the best way to enjoy it is with a stay at Hotel Sorella. This elegant hotel offers packages that include dining at Radio Milano, Capital Grille or cocktails at Monnalisa bar. Hotel Sorella's premier location in the heart of CityCentre gives you the option to party all night or enjoy the great views with a glass of wine while you relax.
Chef for a Day
Tris in The Woodlands offers foodies a behind the scenes look into what its like to work in a chef-driven kitchen. Your Chef for a Day experience begins at 10 a.m. with a four hour one-on-one lesson with Executive Chef Austin Simmons. You get to prep several signature dishes followed by a 3-course lunch. At 4pm, you will break for the day before returning that evening to indulge at Cureight, Tris' exclusive eight course dining experience. Chef for a Day is $400 per person and available on Thursday to Saturday. For more information contact Chris Perry at CPerry@triswoodlands.com.
Chef for a Day at Brennan's is truly an unforgettable experience for that special foodie in your life. Your culinary adventure begins with a personalized chef's uniform and a tour of the restaurant and kitchen. Next you will work and prep at each station in the kitchen tasting your creations along the way. When the prep work is done, it's time to head to the bar to taste spirits and consult with Brennan's "wine guy" to choose the perfect wines for dinner. The evening concludes with a six-course dinner and wine pairing for you and five of your friends. The cost is $1,475 (gratuity excluded).
Spend Labor Day weekend in Galveston for a Texas-sized craft beer festival. Brewmasters is returning for a 9th year to Moody Gardens Hotel with three days of beer education and foam-filled fun. Tickets are available at brewmastersbeerfest.com.
The weekend events start Friday night with a Nacho and Tequila tasting ($30). Saturday's BrewHaHa Grand Tasting includes exclusive "Taste It First" beer selections, Texas Brewery Tasting Tour and seminars for just $35. Upgrade to a VIP ticket ($85) and get early access, a private seating area with food and an exclusive beer and chocolate tasting with Xocolla handcrafted chocolate and Saint Arnold beer.
Seminar topics include uncommon and unusual beer styles, choosing the right beer glass and how to cellar beer. There will also be a special panel of women in craft beer as they discuss the strides they are making in the industry.
The weekend ends with Sunday's Brew-B-Que. This year's featured pitmaster is Patrick Feges of Feges BBQ. There will be live music, beer and amazing food. The $23 ticket includes a bbq plate and a punch card for 6-2 oz beer samples.
Five reasons not to miss this event:
1. So many styles of beers to try all in once place.
2. Pick up tips from industry leaders on how start your own beer cellar.
3. Meet brewery owners.
4. Taste exclusive beers not yet available to the public.
5. Hang out with fellow beer lovers while enjoying some island time.
If you're on social media, chances are you've seen a video or two of a hanging meat skewer dripping with garlic butter. That my friends, is an Espetada, which means "skewered beef" in Portuguese. The Espetada is a specialty served at Peli Peli on a custom designed skewer and stand created by co-owner and Chef Paul Friedman. The entree is typically available in chicken or beef, but for a limited time guests can order pork belly, bacon-wrapped seafood, or a extra large 12-ounce portion of the filet.
Peli Peli is a South African restaurant with three locations in the Houston-area, Katy, Galleria and Vintage Park. Chef Friedman plays homage to the many cultural influences in South Africa, including Portugal, which results in Peli Peli's diverse menu.
The pork belly espetada has tender braised pork belly that is deep fried and then layered with chunks of caramelized pineapple. It's served with sauteed spinach and roasted potatoes for $32. The best part is the Huguenot topping (creamy blue cheese, raspberry chipotle sauce and bacon bits) that can be drizzled on top for an extra dose of yum!
Seafood lovers will enjoy the bacon-wrapped seafood espetada. Scallops, shrimp and kingklip are wrapped in bacon and served with a spicy peri-peri sauce. Kingklip is a firm white-fleshed fish with a delicate flavor that is popular in South Africa. The skewer comes with spinach, roasted potatoes and carrot bredie for $46.
Don't miss Peli Peli's new Summer of 69 Happy Hour. Available Monday to Friday from 2 to 7 p.m., there are 9 items to choose from for just $6. Not hungry enough for a full espetada? You can still enjoy the same great taste in an Espe-taco. Or munch on some Frikadelle meatballs while enjoying half-off wine, beer and select cocktails.
Dessert is a must at Peli Peli so be sure to save room. The Sticky Toffee Pudding is popular, but the Sticky Toffee Pudding Cheesecake takes the classic British dessert to another level. A Melktart (milktart) is a typical South African dessert, but Peli Peli adds their own twist to it. Their Melktart is thicker and creamier with a graham cracker crust and a homemade honeycomb topping.
This year two great drinking events will collide for one epic day of partying. Cinco de Mayo and The Kentucky Derby will both take place Saturday, May 5. Several Houston-area restaurants and bars are taking advantage of this by combining the two for Cinco de Derby celebrations with tequila juleps, margaritas and more. Get your hats ready, have fun, but remember to always drink responsibly.
Pico's Restaurant, 3601 Kirby
An all day tent party will place with two DJ's, street food, big as your head quesadillas, roasted corn and nachos. The patio bar will feature five frozen drink machines, shaker margaritas and signature cocktails.
Fielding's Local Kitchen & Bar, 26400 Kuykendahl
Cinco de Mayo will be celebrated all day with street tacos, beer and cocktails. Derby celebrations take place all weekend and will feature three different juleps - Classic, Candied Walnut and Cherry Vanilla. Celebrate the best of both holidays with a Cinco-Derby Flight for $20 which includes a Classic Julep, Cherry Julep, Herradura Margarita and a Herradura Paloma.
The Cottonmouth Club, 108 Main
Don't miss Main Street's biggest party. The Cottonmouth Club will be hosting an epic Cinco/Deby Mash-up. Downstairs will be serving $6 drink specials including tequila juleps and cocktails with Casa Noble Tequila and High West Whiskey. Tonight is also the premiere of the upstairs reverse speakeasy where guests can order bespoke cocktails.
Hugo's, 1600 Westheimer
Event will take place all day including a Street Food buffet from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. - $28 for Adults, $12 for children. Suerte Tequila happy hour is 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. Hugo's regular dinner menu will be served from 3 to 11 p.m. with and optional Tequila Maestro Dobel tasting menu. End the day with live music and drink specials from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m.
Fleming's, multiple locations
Celebrate the weekend in style with Fleming's $100 margarita. Made with Herradura Seleccion Suprema, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and Grand Marnier Cuvee du Centantaire. The luxurious drink with be served in a keepsake Baccarat diamond-cut crystal tumbler.
Looking to celebrate your inner Jedi? The force is strong with these May 4th observances. From volunteering to handcrafted cocktails, here are a few ways to show your love for Star Wars. The only question that remains is which side will you choose? Light or Dark?
The Cottonmouth Club, 108 Main - 4 p.m. t 2 a.m.
Main Street's hottest new bar will be having $6 Star Wars Themed drinks all day long. Sponsored by Beam Suntory. No Jedi mind tricks here, just great drinks!
Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Herman Park - 7 to 9 p.m.
This month's Mixer & Elixir is out of this world. The May the Fourth Be with You Mixer will include two DJ's, dancing, cocktails and food trucks. The event is 21 and up only. Tickets are $15 for members and $25 for non-members. Costumes are encouraged. "Party or party not. There is no try."
Cane Rosso, Heights and Montrose locations - 5 to 10 p.m.
Star Wars themed specials will be offered all evening including Roni One, Ham Solo, and C3PO pizzas. Cloud City and Red 5 cocktails will be available for thirsty storm troopers. Show up in costume and get 25% off your bill. Post a pics on Instagram in your Star Wars gear with #CRMaytheFourth for a chance to win a gift card. Raffle tickets will be sold for $5 for a chance to win a custom painted Stormtrooper helmet.
Houston Food Bank, 535 Portwall - 6 to 9 p.m.
Even galaxies far far away need volunteers to survive. After a short volunteer shift, the festivities will start will Jedi training provided by the Star Wars Enthusiasts of Houston. There will be Star Wars trivia, character appearances and guests are encouraged to dress up. Bring your own noodle (light saber) and 4 canned goods.
Tapped - Drafthouse & Kitchen, 20444 Kuykendahl - 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.
May the Beer be with you this Friday at Tapped Drafthouse. Choose from 50 brews that are on the light or dark side for just $4. One per person, dine-in only.
Mo's Irish Pub, 138 Vintage Park
Let your dark side come out and play at Mo's. Dress as your favorite character and compete for prizes during Star Wars Trivia at 6 p.m. There will be love music and a best dressed contest. $3 Dos XX on draft.
Sam Houston Race Park, 7575 North Sam Houston Parkway - 6 to 9 p.m.
Dress up as your favorite character for a day at the races. Beer will be 50-cents and the first 1,000 fans will receive a free light saber.
On May 20, the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Texas and True Italian Taste present the Authentic Italian Table: A Celebration of Pasta, Italy's Gift to the World. The event will take place at Bayou City Event Center, 9401 Knight Road, from 2 to 5 p.m. Tickets are $35 and include free parking, wine and samples from over twenty Houston-area restaurants. Tickets can be purchased at Eventbrite.com.
According to Italian film director, Federico Fellini, "Life is a combination of magic and pasta." I believe that pasta itself is magical. Imagining a world without it would be practically im"pasta"ble. Spaghetti, fettuccine and lasagna may be the most common types, but this versatile gift from Italy comes in hundreds of shapes and sizes.
Making fresh pasta may seem like a daunting task, but the results are worth it. One of my favorite dishes is the Pappardelle Bolognese from Papa Amadeus. I reached out to owner Art Huerta to see if I could stop by for a quick lesson in pasta making. Papa Amadeus is a locally-owned restaurant in Spring, Texas. Huerta opened the restaurant to honor his grandfather, who was a fantastic baker. Huerta has over 20 years in the restaurant business and has worked for many Italian restaurants throughout Houston.
I met up with Chef Rodrigo Soriano to begin my quick course in pasta making. Pasta can be made with flour and water or flour and eggs. Pappardelle is a thick, flat ribbon-shaped pasta made with egg. The egg gives it a richer taste and the yolk adds a touch of color. Chef Rodrigo made the dough the day before so that it would have time to rest before stretching. The dough is run thorough a pasta machine several times until it is the right thickness. It is then folded and cut into strips. Sounds easy, right?
After taking the time to make homemade pasta, the last thing you want to do is over cook it. Pasta should be cooked al dente, which means it is still firm when bitten. You don't want pasta that is going to turn to mush when topped with sauce. Now, I normally order my pappardelle with Bolognese, which is a rich, meaty sauce. Today, Chef Rodrigo chose a lighter sauce to highlight the freshness of the pasta. Onion, garlic and tomatoes were gently sautéed in olive oil before adding crab meat. The pappardelle was then added to the pan for a quick toss in the sauce to absorb all the wonderful flavors.
The finished product was a beautiful and flavorful dish that showcased the versatility of pasta. It was paired with a lovely Nebbiolo, another wonderful gift from Italy. Pappardelle gets it's name from the verb pappare, which means "to gobble up". I did indeed gobble up this dish and I look forward to many more memorable pasta meals. Buon Appetito!
Note: This blog post has been entered into the 2018 Houston Pasta Blogger Competition.
The Cottonmouth Club, 108 Main St., opens for business on April 13th. Located in the former space of Barringer Bar, the club promises a cocktail experience like no other. The collaboration between Reserve 101 co-founder Mike Raymond and bartender Michael Neff, took four years to come to fruition. I was fortunate to get a preview of the bar prior to today's official opening. What did I think? I loved everything about it. Great drinks, cool '70s vibe and friendly, approachable staff.
At The Cottonmouth Club, it's all about the experience. Several different shapes and sizes of glassware are available for guest to choose. The wand may choose you in Harry Potter, but here you choose the glass. I picked a simple, yet elegant martini glass. Before making my drink, bar director Michael Neff asked me a few simple questions. "Spring or Autumn? Shaken and refreshing or stirred and boozy?" I went with spring and stirred and boozy. The result was one of the best drinks I have ever tasted. What was in it? Who knows. What's more important is that I loved it.
The upstairs event space is a sharp contrast to the loungey ambiance of downstairs. Original paintings by Raymond of Texas music icons Kam Franklin, Lightnin' Hopkins and Billy Gibbons adorn the walls. Hard-wood floors and exposed brick help create an atmosphere that is classy and relaxing.
Expect the cocktail menu to include classics as well as familiar drinks with a twist. Whiskey lovers can enjoy a glass of a house blended barrel-aged bourbon or a sip of High West's A Midwinter Night's Dram. According to Raymond and Neff, The Cottonmouth Club will be "the least cocktail-y cocktail bar."
The Cottonmouth Club, 108 Main St. - Open daily 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Burger fans rejoice! Shake Shack in Rice Village is open for business. Located at 6205 Kirby Drive, the new location is light and bright with plenty of street and metered parking. The wraparound patio is pet friendly and guests can play with giant Jenga and Connect Four games. The green architecture and eco-friendly construction is evident in the unique design elements such as tables made from reclaimed bowling alley lanes and chairs made with sustainable material.
Shake Shack serves 100% all-natural Angus beef burgers, chicken sandwiches and Vienna beef flat-top hot dogs. Guests can enjoy all their favorite Shake classics including the exclusive Texas Lockhart Link Burger, a cheeseburger topped with Kreuz Market jalapeno cheese sausage links. Frozen custard concretes will get a local twist with the addition of seasonal pies (Pie Oh My) and unicorn bait cookies (West U-nicorn) from Fluff Bake Bar.
In keeping with their mission to Stand For Something Good, Shake Shack will donate 5% of sales from their Pie Oh My concrete to the Houston Humane Society. While you enjoy your shake, your furry friend can enjoy a bag of specially made dog biscuits. Shake Shack even has special bowls for Fido to quench his thirst. Humans can wash down their burgers with brews from Saint Arnold, Karbach, Back Pew, Shiner and the exclusive Brooklyn Brewery ShackMeister Ale.
Sunday – Thursday 11am-10pm
Friday & Saturday 11am-11pm
Sud Italia has been a Rice Village staple for excellent Italian food for the past three years. The recent addition of Chef Maurizio Ferrarese has brought a fresh new menu to the cozy ristorante that is exciting and delicious. Italian food might bring to mind images of heavy sauces and rich pasta dishes, but the focus at Sud Italia is on coastal Italian cuisine with an emphasis on seafood, fresh herbs and seasonal vegetables.
Italian wine expert, Jeremy Parzen, recently invited members of the Houston Food Blogger Collective to preview Sud Italia's upcoming family-style dinner. The Cena di Famiglia (family dinner) will be offered on Wednesdays for $50 and seating is limited. The menu will change weekly, but will feature an assortment of Italian classics such as antipasto, crudo, seafood and meat dishes, and of course pasta.
Laughing and eating with my fellow bloggers reminded me of meals I've had in Italy where dinner is not just about great food, but enjoying the company of others. We started the meal with crostini, olives and stuffed peppers followed by a beautiful octopus salad. The Ahi tuna and snapper crudo were very popular at our table. I was delighted to see a seafood pasta with a gnocchi I learned how to make while in Florence. My absolute favorite dish of the night was the strozzapreti with short rib ragu.
In addition to the Family Dinner, Sud Italia has several exciting events coming up. On March 8, they will feature a Wines of Ruffino dinner for $59.50. The four-course dinner will include a Greppone Mazzi 2012 Brunello di Montalcino. To celebrate the Feast of San Giuseppe, a special dinner will take place on March 19. The Sicilian-style wine dinner is just $59 and a portion of the proceeds will go to the Houston Food Bank. For reservation call the restaurant at (713) 664-7571.
The 5th Annual Houston Caffeine Crawl took place February 23-24. The two-day event included a choice of six different routes in various neighborhoods throughout the city. Over fifteen local cafes and roasters participated in this year's crawl. This was my first ever caffeine crawl and my chosen route would take me to five cafes I have never visited. My java journey started on Saturday afternoon at Cafeza.
I arrived early at Cafeza to indulge in brunch before the start of the crawl. Our host for the day greeted us with a smile and gave a brief overview of the day's route. Cafeza is owned by a husband and wife team that were inspired by the cafes they experienced while traveling in Barcelona. It has an easy going ambiance and serves wine, beer, coffee and tea. We were treated to a Cafe Agridolce coffee cocktail, which was my favorite taste of the day.
Next stop was the Paper Co. Cafe, which has their own in-house roaster and uses Mueva coffee. Paper Co. is more than just a coffee shop, they care about the community. Profits go toward providing for Houston's homeless and everyday a community meal is offered on a sliding scale fee. The menu includes made from scratch lunch and brunch items.
At Inversion Coffee House we were treated to an affogato made with Greenway Coffee and gelato from Dolce Neve. This light and bright artsy shop has a great menu with a diverse selection of gourmet coffees and pastries. The next stop, Blacksmith Houston, also featured Greenway Coffee. Here we sat outside on the patio and learned a little about their roasting process. We were then given samples of plain coffee which had excellent flavor.
Last stop was at Southside Espresso, the second smallest coffee shop in Houston. We learned about Fusion Beans and Sumatra coffee from owner Sean Marshall. A sample of Spiced Honey Butter Latte was the perfect way to end the day. I found some new favorite spots along the way and I'm looking forward the next year's crawl.
About the Author
I like eating, traveling, and enjoying liquid libations. I'm all about great wines, signature cocktails, and local brews.