Friday, January 9, 2015

The Best of Texas

Despite starting this blog during my original unemployment phase in Los Angeles, over 70% of the posts (a whopping 173) hail from the great state of Texas. Whereas the early phase of the site was me blindly following a cookbook and trying not to set my sister's apartment on fire, my move to Houston marked a transition to taking chances and trying more and more ridiculous culinary escapades.

Paired with, Kevin, Robin, and the occasional O'Connor sister, I had more cooking adventures than I ever could have imagined when this all began. I learned how to handle raw meat, used a pressure cooker without blowing up my apartment, and baked up the net worth of a small country in butter for desserty goodness. Texas is where I truly learned how to think for myself in the kitchen and began to cook with heart.

Playing with a torch toward the start of my time in Texas. Look at that focus!
In honor of my time there, I now present you with the top 10 (%, because I had a hard enough time narrowing it down to this many) posts from the past 3 years of living large in Texas in chronological order.

The Christopher Nolan Cooking Bromance Begins Award

After 4 years living apart, Kevin and I had a glorious reunion and began what would be one of the world's most prolific series of cooking adventures ever. Following learning how to cook strictly vegetarian food, I went under Kevin's tutelage to start learning the mysteries of cooking meat and seafood.

The Destiny Award

The original, and still the best pie we've made (I'm sorry Strawberry-Rhubarb). It may be a traditional diner treat, but this cherry pie sparked the Robin cooking adventures that helped me make my way out of Houston and on to Charleston.

The Rick Moranis Best Realization of a Childhood Dream Award

SusieCakes' whoopie pies just may be my favorite dessert of all time, and this attempt to live out my dreams of Rick Moranis' opus delivered all the cookie and frosting deliciousness my heart desired. It reappeared in both Red Velvet and Strawberry form later on, but nothing will top the traditional version. Plus what's not to love about a post dedicated to Honey I Shrunk the Kids?

The Candace Nelson Award for Cupcake Crafting

Maconda's bridal shower was the first time I really took a chance with my cooking. I had 3 completely different ideas and brought them together for some fantastic cupcakery. These had everything- chocolate, fruit filling, and alcohol, so I should have known it would work. Later, this recipe (turned to red velvet and minus the curd) would return in far naughtier versions for Maconda's bachelorette party (you'll have to email me for pictures of that).

The Twitter Frenzy Award

My favorite fancy restaurant food of all-time (from Susan Feniger's now sadly closed Street in Los Angeles) turned into my first ever popular post, as a retweet from Chef Feniger herself led to the most traffic the blog had ever seen at the time. Coconut jam, soy sauce, and a fried egg might sound like a weird combo, but it actually is the food of the gods and should not be missed.

The Bartowski Aces Award

It's fitting that today's end themed post features a celebration of another grand finale, that of Kevin's and my beloved Chuck. We put our love for the show into our cooking that night, and it came out in finished product. Our wonderful hodgepodge of a dish managed to perfectly recreate what we imagined it would taste like from the TV show.

The Tim Burton Art Design Award

Of all the baked goods I ever made, this has always stood out as the most whimsical thanks to the awesome meringue peaks. Our foray away from fruit into cream pies was a brilliant idea, as the result was essentially a s'mores pie. This also holds a special place in my heart thanks to some shaky driving leading to a wonderful meringue stain on my car floor.

The Buddy the Elf Best Overuse of Sugar Award

This sugar bomb seemed quite bittersweet at the time as it was Robin's send-off to Charleston (silly past Terry not realizing his certain future), but the craziness and absurdity of a giant, 3-flavored pop tart cake covered in sprinkles encapsulated everything I love about baking with Robin. Don't worry, readers, I made sure to bring all the wonderful sprinkles with me when I moved.

The John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt Excellence in Naming Award

My favorite chef Susan Feniger makes the list one more time with a sandwich as tasty as its name is long and mythical. This messy cheesesteak/banh mi hybrid that Nancy and I made set the bar for every sandwich I ate from then on.

The Homer Simpson Fugu Joyous Celebration of Not Getting Food Poisoning Award

During our streak of Saturday cooking extravagances, Kevin and I tried many things from tacos to burgers to chicken and waffles, but nothing scared us more than crafting a massive sushi feast from the potentially sketchy Asian market. With sake and Sapporo giving us courage, we managed to make copious amounts of delicious sushi highlighted by the Texas-style Himachi (on the right).

The Clear Eyes. Full Stomachs. Can't Lose Award

My 200th post featured an extra heaping helping of the excess typical of cooking adventures with Kevin. Southwestern Omelette "Sushi", Biscuit Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict, and Chicken and Waffles (along with drink pairings) set the stage for one of the most delicious and memorable nights we had. 

The Chuy's Creamy J Award for Superb Tex-Mex

As is custom in Texas, I made plenty of tacos during my time there. Without question, these ones featuring the state food and drink of Texas were the best. Plus, you make them in a slow-cooker rendering them perfect for a lazy couch and TV filled Sunday.

The George R. R. Martin Deathtime Achievement Award for Bloodiest Feast

My baking style may not always be pretty, but it's usually quite tasty. It was a relief to not have to worry about outward appearances for once and just focus on how many different edible blood splatters Lars, Mother of Dragons,  and I could make. Special points are awarded for my coworkers wondering what the hell was going on when I brought the leftovers the next day (I had no idea there could be so many people blissfully unaware of GoT).

The "She Saved the World. A lot." Award for Repeated Excellence

Sacha and Maconda know how to throw a dinner party. 15 pizzas and 10 cooks could have been a disaster, but each and every pizza from my bacon jam to Doughmaster Fresh Kevin MC's bay area clam and radicchio and Christina's Nutella pizza brought a new world of possibilities and flavors. Somehow I found myself wanting more when it was all said and done.

The "I Just Love It When a Plan Comes Together" Award

A rare bit of actual planning led to one of the most fun and exciting nights in Houston. Kevin, Michaela, and I attempted to replicate Cafe TH's best creations during a rare Minh vacation. The planning night was more miss than hit, but the execution on the real night for our 10 guests was flawless leading to 4 courses (and 5 dishes) of pure awesome.

The Havana Nights Heritage Embracement Award

I'm still trying to convince Kevin that he needs to buy a food truck with me so we can emulate Chef. This night was key in embracing both my Cuban and Cajun heritage, and setting me on my current path of trying to cajunfy Cuban food (more on that to come in future posts). The Cuban Muffaletta managed to unseat the Uruguay Chivoto Steak and Fried Egg Sandwich in the top rung of my sandwich pantheon.

The Chilton Prep Award for Excellence in Teaching

After 3 years of wishing to have a dish named after me, Cafe TH owner Minh did one better and let me cook my favorite bánh mì in his kitchen. Chargrilled pork, bacon, fried eggs, and French butter come together on a crisp French baguette for the world's best nap-inducing sandwich. I'm still surprised I managed to contain my glee long enough to assemble a sandwich without bursting into flames or committing a major health code violation.

Artist's rendering of my time in Texas. Did I ever mention how awesome I am with photoshop?
I'm gonna miss the hell out of Texas and all my friends, but I can't wait for everything to come in this next portion of my life in South Carolina. Stay tuned for the next phase of the blog where I pretend our kitchen is the quaint pie shoppe of our dreams. Coming up: Robin and I spoil our dog Maggie with The Mag Pie.

Robin and I pictured after our first cooking adventure in Texas. We now replicate this pose every night in our kitchen.

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