Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cooking with Friends: Corey's amazing cauliflower crusted pizza

Tonight, I enjoyed being sous chef again for Corey in her kitchen, and we made one of the fabulous recipes she has blogged about before - Cauliflower Crust Pizza.

The crust, fresh from the oven
This time around, Corey decided to double the crust recipe with a couple of changes. Instead of doubling the mozzarella, she put in 1 1/2 times the amount, and then put in 1/2 cup of Italian style bread crumbs to see what kind of outcome we'd get.

We piled on the healthy toppings - a sprinkling of mozzarella, plus mushrooms, red pepper and roasted zucchini, broccoli and garlic.

Voila! The finished product
In a word, SUCCESS. The crust held together perfectly - so well, in fact, that you could pick it up and eat it like a NY style 'za slice. It was so tasty! I'd been meaning to make it, but there's nothing like being with the blogger who wrote about it to make you carry out the intent. If you haven't already made this from Corey's blog, please do yourself a favor and just give it a try. You won't be sorry you did it (nor will your waistline I'm thinking)!
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Monday, February 27, 2012

Cooking with Friends: Brussels Sprouts, Honey Roasted Almonds and Parmesan Pasta

Finished dish - the sprouts are slightly caramelized
The other night, Corey and I decided to make dinner for our hubbies and, knowing they both love Brussels sprouts, we found (and then modified) a recipe that would appeal to both sweet and savory preferences. This Brussels Sprouts, Honey Roasted Almonds and Parmesan Pasta is super easy to make, and an appealing combination of flavors. 
  • 3/4 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and coarsely chopped (we quartered them) 
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil  
  • Salt and pepper 
  • 3/4 pound pasta (we used a type of linguine) 
  • 2 tablespoons butter 
  • 3/4 cup honey-roasted almonds --- see almond roasting recipe here
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan 

Ready to Cook!
  • Preheat the oven to 400°.
  • On a baking sheet, toss the Brussels sprouts with the olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing occasionally, until browned, about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente.
  • Drain, reserving 1/3 cup pasta cooking water.
  • Return the pasta and reserved cooking water to the pot.
  • Stir in the butter and Brussels sprouts; toss in the almonds.
  • Top with the Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

You can change this up as you'd like, maybe roasting red pearl onions (give them a 10 minute head start in the roasting pan, then throw in the Brussels sprouts). 

Or, you can saute half of one thinly sliced leek in a pan. Splash in some fresh lemon juice (about a tablespoon) and white wine (about three tablespoons), allowing it to reduce a bit before adding to the pasta.

Or, try some turkey bacon, cooked until crisp then crumbled over the top as you're serving it. Like more savory than sweet? Just dry-roast the almonds, or toast pine nuts instead.  
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Thursday, February 23, 2012

CARNIVAL - What I cannot hear you!

Ok, first a few feathers and then don't forget to read the post after the pics...


I am happy to report that we survived Carnival in Trinidad. Actually, the worst part of all (without a negative connotation) was the volume level of the music being played. Speaking of the sound systems, the music was blasted out of industrial quality speakers like those used at rock concerts. The speakers and electronics were mounted onto open sided 18 wheel tractor trailers, each with a separate diesel powered generator to produce the electricity that was required to power the electronics that created sound levels between 115dB (decibels) and 120dB. To put that into perspective, pain for a listener starts at 125dB and a jet engine at full power reaches @140dB. Each truck had multiple stacks of Wharfdale industrial grade amplifiers generating thousands of watts power. As a former audiophile and stereo salesman (yea, back when music was first invented), these systems were sweet!  

These sound trucks are not only awesome music delivery platforms, they are expensive to boot. Marlin, one of the sound guys on one of the trucks said to me (in his Trini Creole accent), "Wit dat ting you could buy t'ree houses here in Trinidad!" Imagine 50 or more of these trucks simultaneously playing different music at high volumes, all across Port-of-Spain? From the balcony of our friend's condo (at Carnival's peak) it all came together and sounded like a loud dull roar with nothing really distinguishable as music. But I could feel the bass all the way up on the 15th floor.

Carnival is a gathering of people formed into what are called "bands". Each band has their own team name (i.e., Tribe, Bliss, et al), their own color scheme and their own band song. Everyone in a band is decked out in an array of mostly feathered costumes of vibrant colors. For the larger bands, there were up to 4 of the sound trucks all spaced about a block apart. The music was controlled by a DJ on a laptop who was situated in the front-most truck. The playlist was then transmitted to the other trailing trucks over UHF wireless so that they were all synched to the same music selection. Very high-tech to say the least. 

"Winding" at Carnival in Trinidad
Lastly, I must say that Carnival in Trinidad was not what I had expected; it was much better! In spite of the non-stop revelry (and more than a little alcohol consumption), it was quite civil, very organized, safe and secure. Though many wear the skimpiest of costumes, I saw absolutely no nudity. You will see more on any weekday in New Orleans!! There is this thing called "winding" (pronounced wine-ing) that is quite suggestive, but it is much more of a dance move than anything else? I have found that the people of Trinidad come together once a year for this big party with a high level of mutual respect for one another and to preserve a now 50 year tradition on this island. It was a great experience and I am glad that I was able to enjoy a unique Trinidad celebration.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

J'Ouvert - It's All French to Me!

How does one describe J'Ouvert in Trinidad? If a picture paints a thousand words (pun intended), then you might just have a feeling for how crazy and fun this traditional street party was! We got up at 2:00am so that the girls (Brooke & Corey) could do their make-up. This includes sparkling eye shadow and bright colors. Of course this fancy-free, clean and fresh look would soon be marred by the pink and blue paint chosen by our Fantasy "band". You see, the tradition of J'Ouvert in Trinidad is to kick off Carnival by getting "dirty" and partying from 4:00am until sunrise. Some bands chose cocoa, others chose mud, and we joined the paint squad. By morning's start, we were covered in all including a dash of rum, vodka, and beer.

Corey makes Glen pink
So, our entire Fantasy band (over 500) met at what I will call our muster point  at 3:45am to start getting our dirty on.  At precisely 4:00am the celebration began with a procession through the streets of St. James, Port-of-Spain. Now, this is not your run of the mill procession, but rather, the perfect blend of Soca music, Carnival style dancing and an open bar! For those who do not know (like me previously), Soca is a style of music native to Trinidad and Tobago. It has its roots in Calypso with an influence of both cadence (Dominica) and East Indian rhythms of chutney (a distinctly Trinidad style). The party continued until after sunrise and ended with breakfast, which we skipped in favor of much needed sleep. 

In the end, it was an amazing experience and one that many (young or young at heart) should add to the bucket list. We have yet to visit Rio in Brazil, but I must say that this did not disappoint. Trinidad is fiercely proud of their Carnival celebration and, in fact, it is known as, "The Greatest Show on Earth". If you are ever faced with a debilitating choice as to where to attend Carnival, I hereby give a strong recommendation for Trinidad. Cheers!

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Trinidad by any other name is CARNIVAL!

Brooke and I headed down to Trinidad last Thursday and we are now preparing for Carnival, the biggest celebration in the Caribbean. We have already attended a "Fete" (held at the cricket stadium), which is a big cooler party that starts at around 11pm and then lasts all night. Okay, we made it until 1:30am and counted ourselves as quasi-locals. I can assure you that my hips do NOT move in the way that I saw others who attended. And let's not mention the fact that I am old enough to be the father of most attendees!!

We slept in on Saturday and then headed to the Maracas Beach. To say that I am not a good passenger (versus being the driver) would be an understatement! Both the brake and steering wheel on my side of the car were not working. It was described to me as "a one hour mountainous drive", but never was it said that the whole trip over from Port-of-Spain would be 2 feet from a straight drop to the sea below!! Did I mention the road was barely 2 car widths wide? And the cars are right-side drive (what were the Brits originally thinking?). And what driving school did these people attend? In spite of it all, the beach was beautiful and Brooke befriended a snake; life does not get much better than that!

So, it is off to bed right now as we will be leaving at 3:00am to attend, uh...participate in J'ouvert; the very start of Carnival. J'ouvert is a large street party in the eastern Caribbean region. J'ouvert is a contraction of the French jour ouvert, or dawn/day break. The celebration involves calypso/soca bands and their followers dancing through the streets. The festival starts well before dawn and peaks a few hours after sunrise. Fortunately for me, there will be at least 500 people in our "band" and it will be dark - no one will even know this particular guy can't dance!

Our best to all from Trinidad and Carnival...
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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tre Spa = Tres Fab

Dragged Greg out to a gorgeous little salon on Sunset called Tre Spa. Owner Trey Gillen is a NYC transplant, and so as you can imagine is responsible for exclusively carrying some New York lines. And may I say, I'm very impressed with Trey, with the salon design and the offerings. I'll have to go back soon. 

RGB polish - lovely colors
As part of the event, they offered a polish change, so I let Greg choose the color: crimson. The salon just received its shipment of RGB polishes (gorgeous and less toxic than commercial polishes). Pretty! And the Jemma Kidd Make Up School lineup is the kind you drool over ...  

In the meantime, I'll be trying the contents of the amazing swag bag I was fortunate enough to receive! 

Here are just a few of the contents:
  • Biodroga Systems Oxygen Formula 
  • Blax snag-free hair elastics
  • Sachajuan hairspray, shampoo and repair
  • Jemma Kidd Ultimate Lipstick Duo
  • Lots of cards for products and services

Wonderful contents

Reminds me of the mini-lipsticks Mom had when I was a kid
They say that diamonds are a girl's best friend ... I'm thinking that makeup might run a close second.
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Monday, February 13, 2012

Something's brewing in H'town ...

On a whim, I suggested to Greg that tour the Karbach Brewery. Turned out to be a great move! It's a bit like the old St. Arnold's tour (though I've only visited the new facility) - like a huge ice house with the proper areas for separation, brewing, fermentation and storage. 

Show up early for the 1 pm tour - some pours run out before they're done for the day. For $7 (or $6 if you bring a can of food for the Houston Food Bank), you get a way cute little .33L glass, four chips and a whole lot of fun as well as a nice little beer education. There are other packages too, and sassy t-shirts.

I tried the Hopadillo IPA, Rodeo Clown Double IPA (very English-tasting), Sympathy for the Lager and the Weisse Versa Wheat. Oh, and a sip of the Hellfighter Imperial Porter. Yum, even if you are not an aficionado....

Malty goodness from across the pond
Part of the fun is the scene - it was packed, people had their chairs and picnics, the music was awesome and beer genius David was a fab tour guide. If you're in their distribution area, be on the lookout for Karbach goodness in a can, starting in local grocery stores in March.

Cute monster ... the green thing is adorable too

While the drink sampling was fun, even more fun was my birthday dinner at Roost with Corey and Glen - more soon on that!

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Spinach and 'Shroom Stuffed Chicken - Yum!

Greg had a marathon day yesterday at work, so I thought a nice dinner would be a welcome finish to the day (ok, maybe I was trying to sneak in a little healthy food too, since the dog-walking and cardio and down-dogging is all being done now by yours truly). I adapted a recipe from Food Network for stuffed chicken (using fresher ingredients), and Greg reports that it was in the top three chicken dishes he's ever had! He didn't remember the other two at the time, but no matter. 

Here's the recipe:

It's not fancy, but it's yummy!
Spinach and 'Shroom Stuffed Chicken
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Cooking spray or about a teaspoon of butter and a tablespoon of EVOO
  • 12 small mushroom caps, crimini or button
  • 2 cloves garlic, cracked
  • 1 shallot, quartered
  • About 4-5 cups of fresh baby spinach
  • A few tablespoons of white wine
  • 1/2 small lemon 
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano or Romano, a couple of handfuls
  • A bit of fresh grated or ground nutmeg
  • Toothpicks
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup white wine 
  • 1 cup chicken broth (low sodium is better; homemade is ideal)

Make the filling (you can even do this a day ahead):

1. Heat a large pot or Dutch oven with cooking spray or EVOO and butter. Dump in the mushrooms, shallot and garlic. Saute about 5 minutes, adding a bit of salt and pepper as it's cooking. Put in the bowl of a food processor and let it cool just a bit.

2. While that's cooling, put a splash of wine in the pot. Throw in the spinach, cover and wilt on medium heat for about 90 seconds. It should be a gorgeous shade of green. Remove from pot, put it in a bowl and stick it in the fridge to stop cooking (can also just nestle the bowl in a larger bowl of ice). Turn off heat.

3. Chop the mushroom mixture in the food processor. Take the bowl of spinach, remove any excess liquid, then add the mushroom mixture. Add the ricotta and the Parmesan. Zest lemon over the top and squeeze in about 1/2 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice. Add nutmeg. Mix gently. 

4. Pound out chicken in a zipper bag with mallet so it's super-thin. Try not to let it look like Swiss cheese. I tend to make this mistake. Put a generous heap of stuffing on one end of each piece, and roll it gently, tucking in the sides and then securing with toothpicks. It will be messy, but don't worry. 

5. Turn heat back on - medium is good. Put in a bit of EVOO or cooking spray, and saute the chicken (give each piece room so they caramelize), browning on all sides and removing carefully to a glass dish or bowl which you can cover to keep in the moisture as they're done. 

6. When all the chicken is done, add the butter and flour to the pan to make a roux. Now whisk in the wine and reduce it for a few minutes, then add broth, making sure you scrape up those lovely flavor bits. Return chicken to pan, reduce heat to a simmer and spoon the sauce over the top. It will be ready to serve in just a couple of minutes. Remove the toothpicks before plating or just warn your loved ones that they're on their own with the wooden spear removal. 

Enjoy with a side of quinoa cooked with Herbes de Provence, and roasted asparagus (for medium thickness stalks, roast with EVOO and garlic/herbs at 375 degrees for 6 minutes in a metal pan - they will be very crisp and sweet). 
NOTE - if you are a vegetarian, try making the filling and using wonton wrappers to make ravioli out of it. Serve with a nice vegetable broth with snipped scallions. Or, you could mix the filling into piping hot wheat pasta. 

Bon appetit!

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Byzantium, Picasso and Magritte

Having set aside a quick hour on a recent Wednesday, I decided to take advantage of a world-class collection only two miles from the house. The Menil Collection was founded by immigrants who left France for Houston during WW II. The de Menils collected everything from prehistoric artifacts to modern day masterpieces.

What I love, apart from the fact that this museum is free, is that you can enjoy the amazing architecture of the space as the perfect background for priceless works. Where else can you park at no cost, wander in, and get up close and personal with works from Picasso and Magritte? I saw Le chant des sirenes, for example. Tres cool.

The bonus was checking out the special exhibit, 'Imprinting the Divine' - a collection of 13th to 18th century Byzantine iconic paintings. As an artist, I'm fascinated by the discipline of art from that time, and how the artists at that time didn't quite grasp perspective or vanishing points. But that doesn't matter - these pieces were pretty amazing and told many stories. 

If you're in Houston and can sneak away just for an hour, it's worth checking out the Menil - especially if you haven't seen it in a while. Don't wait too long - the Byzantine exhibit runs through March 18.

On the grounds of the Menil, near a popular picnic spot

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Friday, February 3, 2012

The Glamah of Business Travel, Check That!

So, I have been traveling on business for many years and the majority of my friends (who do not travel for business) think that I have a very glamorous job. Do they not know how far it is to Sao Paulo, Brazil from Houston, TX? And with a change of planes in Miami? Oh, and the whole round-trip being completed in less than 36 hours, with 24 of those in the air? And in a middle seat in coach? Yea, that's glamorous!

Many think that travel to varied locations, even for work, is like going on little mini-vacations. The absolute truth is that I have been to many places, yet I have seen very few. Flying in for meetings near Heathrow Airport in London does not constitute "seeing" England. And just last week I got stuck in Atlanta after my scheduled 2 hour flight to Houston was more than 8 hours late. For the record, Terminal D at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is not Disney World; well, except for the food prices. And as much as Tom Hanks made living in an airport terminal look like fun (The Terminal), it's not. Yea, that's glamorous. 

Weather delays, mechanical problems, crew time-outs, turbulence, endless jet-lag, rookie travelers (no ma'am that won't fit in the overhead bin even if they magically doubled its size right here on the spot - why did they let you bring that down the jetway anyway?); yea that's glamorous.  Crying children, whining adults, disgruntled flight crews, overpriced snacks, tiny bathrooms, tiny seats, limited recline, no pillows, no blankets, too hot or too cold cabins; yea that's glamorous. Body scans, body pat-downs, no belts, no shoes, laptops out, confiscated cupcakes, TSA; yea, that's glamorous.

Before I seem completely ungrateful, let me say two positive things about traveling on business. 1) It means that I have a job, and 2) I earn valuable benefits like free trips that are just for fun.

I will close this post with a few personal travel statistics, 90% of which came from being a business "Road Warrior":

2.8 million miles flown

48 of 50 US states visited (all but Alaska & Delaware)

Spotted in 25 countries & over 1000 cities or towns

Over 1000 hotel nights stayed 

Over 300 cars rented

Dined at unknown thousands of restaurants including nearly 100 Buffalo Wild Wings

30ish extra pounds gained (see previous comment)

Yea, that's glamorous!

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

There is Hope at Star of Hope

Brooke and I had the honor and the privilege to attend the annual dinner for Houston's Star of Hope mission tonight. As a bonus, Michael W Smith performed after dinner! Star of Hope is the nation's largest privately funded outreach to the homeless. The donations of both time and money, by many generous people, help to make a real difference in the lives of real people facing a variety of real challenges. 

Star of Hope proves that the needs of thousands (and growing) of homeless people can be addressed without the requirement for government assistance.

Here are just a few statistics about the homeless just in Houston alone:
  • At any point in time there are 13,500 homeless people in Houston 
  • There are 11,000 homeless children attending the public schools
  • Homeless families in Houston doubled in numbers between 2009 and 2010
  • The number of homeless individuals rose 25% in 2011 over 2010

And here is just a sample of what the Star of Hope has done to change lives:
  • Served 1,028 people per day in 2011
  • Provided 310,585 stays
  • Offered 615,068 meals
  • Served 9,276 homeless people on the streets of Houston and 6,855 in their programs
  • Saw 1,063 adults achieve independent living
  • Served 280 children per day who were living with their families
  • Helped 322 adults find new jobs
  • Graduated 397 adults from their long term recovery programs

It is truly amazing, but the needs are enormous and on-going; and sadly they will be always. We feel blessed to be a part of this outstanding charity and even more thankful for the lives that we currently live - in a home, with daily meals and showers, cars to transport us and a job to sustain us. May there always be people who want to help those who are less fortunate! 

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