Sunday, July 10, 2016

Houston Pie Project - Kenny & Ziggy's New York Delicatessen

It will come as no surprise if you are a fan of their deli that Kenny and Ziggy's is great at making pies too. Two of the pies obey their silly naming style typical of the menu (e.g., the Pecan on someone your own size and the Big Apple). ‪#‎Houston_Pie_Project‬

Big Apple Pie

The Big Apple Pie has a lovely thin crisp dome and signs of being made by hand. Take note that a good crust stays crisp for several days after being made unlike a frozen pie crust or grocery store crust. Recommended.

The apple filling is a giant pile of crisp tender apple shreds that are very simply apple - not a lot of cinnamon or ginger - and not very sweet. Clearly has the East European style of pie making that the owner learned from his grandparents as described in the documentary "Deli Man" that featured Kenny Gruber.

The Hungarian apple strudel has a mixture of nuts added to thicker apple slices. I will be coming back to report on the other sweet pies and the chicken pot pie that was designated one of the top 100 dishes in Houston in 2013.
Hungarian Apple Strudel
Chocolate Cream Pie
Banana Cream Pie

Houston Pie Project - Goode Company Seafood

Goode Company Seafood has been a popular place for seafood for many years and I have found older Houston restaurants to be fond of serving pies as desserts. However, they also make several savory seafood hand pies in a Cajun tradition as well. Their creole shrimp pie showed good browning on a very thin flaky crust and was packed with many plump shrimp in creole sauce (see my entry on Hebert's).

creole shrimp pie

Goode Company Seafood has several sweet pies on offer including the banana cream pie, margarita key lime pie, chocolate cream pie, and pecan pie. The pecan pie is the most popular but I was intrigued by the structural aspect of the banana cream pie. The bananas were layered into the pie rather than being on top of the cream filling and the base crust was kept crispy by a thin layer of chocolate. The cream layer is topped with fresh sweetened whipped cream and dark chocolate shavings. A elegant version of the traditional banana cream.
Banana cream pie with chocolate base

 The margarita key lime pie was very tart. You could taste that a lot of key lime zest had been added to increase the lime flavor. To balance the tartness of the lime the whipped cream was enhanced with marscapone. Additionally, the base was made with a crisp pretzel crust that wasn't soggy at all.
Margarita Key lime pie
The famous campechana
The Goode Company Seafood campechana is not pie, but compared to many Mexican style ceviches that are simply lime or lime-tomato, theirs is much more delicate due to olive oil brine and the bay leaves which impart the shrimp and fish with an herbal forward flavor.


Houston Pie Project - Beef Wellington at Black Labrador

The "beef Wellington" at Black Labrador is a great and affordable dish. The classic version uses filet mignon, but this version (closer to steak and mushroom pie) is probably half the price and still pretty tasty. Cubed beef was nearly fork tender with lots of mushrooms and served with a fresh horseradish and still crunchy steamed broccoli. The pastry lid was just right just like all the pub pies I've had in the U.K. The Lab should do an all mushroom vegetarian version too. I had several recommendations from friends for more classic versions of beef Wellington, including at Queen Vic, B&B Butchers, Tony's, and Maxim's. Stay tuned for those.


Houston Pie Project - Pondicheri Bake Lab‬

The New York Times award-winning chai pie is reminiscent of Thanksgiving and cheesecake due to the chai tea spices in a milky creamy gelatin base. The Parle-G and crackine crust is crispy crunchy like French millefuille with tiny seeds and toffee flavor from the crackine. The pie is topped with fresh whipped cream and candied cashews. Highly recommended.
Parle-G is a popular Indian cookie in the style of an English digestive biscuit

Fruit galette with figs and plums. The crisp crust is pressed into poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and almond flakes, covered with a fluffy almond paste, and topped with sliced figs and plums. The idea of rolling the crust in seeds imparts the Indian sensibility that the Bake Shop is recognized for. Recommended.

A chickpea chaat provided a savory contrast to all the pies. My wife and I routinely visit the bake lab for the quinoa muffins, and the soup and 1/2 sandwich combo is always amazingly flavorful with complex combinations of Indian spices. I keep thinking about a lamb sandwich with fresh mustard I had there months ago.

quinoa muffins with pepitas and pomegranate arils
salmon sandwich with pea tendrils

Not your grandfather's root vegetable soup - think rasam with mustard seeds

This bar is reminiscent of a peanut butter bar but is topped with a variety of seeds and less sweetness

Houston Pie Project - Hay Merchant

Cajun meat pies are made empanada style for Chris Shepherd's Hay Merchant by chef Angela Rowley of Blackbird Foods. Knowing Angela's other meat pies, I'm sure this one is oozing with butter but doesn't taste greasy at all. Very pillowy unlike a traditional cajun meat pie. The meat filling is relatively sparse and a cilantro dipping sauce was offered, so these are clearly intended to be a shared appetizer rather than a main dish like the many savory meat pies Angela serves at the Eastside Farmer's Market. I paired these pies with Bavik Pilsner. I wanted to try them with a sour beer to counter the usual fattiness of the meat pies I had in Natchitoches, but the waiter was right that due to their lightness such a beer wouldn't be the right pairing here. ‪#‎Houston_Pie_Project‬

Hay Merchant is known for its diverse variety of beers

Houston Pie Project - Revival Market

 Revival Market has a shifted since my last visit to more of a restaurant and less of a grocery store. They still offer their house-made Worcester sauce, soy sauce, etc. The selection of pastries, fresh orange juice, and coffees not to mention the more savory breakfast options will be worth returning for.

Of course they are known for their butchery, cured meats, and charcuterie.

The chocolate cream pie by pastry chef Alyssa File is perfectly balanced. The chocolate was neither too sweet nor too bitter and much more dense than the typical chocolate cream pie, which usually has a mousse-like texture. Fresh sweetened whipped cream enrobes the entire pie, and bittersweet chocolate crumbles are scattered over the top. The pastry crust shreds rather than flakes. You need this pie. Highly recommended.

chocolate cream pie and latte

Cross-section of the pie

Houston Pie Project - Cafe Brasil

Three pastry chefs tag team baking a rotating seasonal offering of fruit pies and cakes. Today's pie was apple, but based on my experience I want to come back for the peach pie. Apparently the peach pies have been selling out regularly.

The apples were crisp tender suspended in a Mexican cinnamon streusel. I have yet to master this style of pie filling. Crust was slightly chewy. Recommended.

The cakes looked worthy also. Chocolate lavender with edible flowers, strawberry basil, and lemon blackberry.

Houston Pie Project - John and Jane Dough

John and Jane Dough (and Tejas Chocolates and BBQ) have become two of the reasons to travel to Tomball when it's not time for the German Christmas Festival or to shop for antiques. John and Jane Dough is owned by a couple formerly from Portland and you can see that Northwest sensibility in both the setting/decor inside a bungalow decorated with elementary school items and garden herbs and vegetables rather than flowers. With all Houston's sunny days unlike Portland we aren't feeling the need for carbs and breakfast all day to combat seasonal affective disorder, but rather indulging our love of those foods.

The bakery features several seasonal pies and cakes on their menu. They are quite popular, so I was lucky to have snagged the last piece of lemon icebox pie the day in early March that I and my friends made the drive. Their version was very lemony and creamy with a thick layer of vanilla whipped cream and some gray salt. Highly recommended.

Slices of cake are almost decorative items among the cake stands, antique mixers, and baking books.

 They serve breakfast and lunch. Breakfast includes an variety of biscuits, scones, and muffins. The sandwiches are made on the breads baked in house.

coffee and espresso comes from
Stumptown Roasters in Portland (one of the three best roasteries in the U.S.)
Their version of a donut muffin

Friday, April 29, 2016

Rhubarb Brown Butter Tart

With it being near the end of April and St. George's Day (April 23rd's celebration of England lesser known than St. Patrick's [Ireland], St. David's [Wales], and St. Andrew's [Scotland]) I've started eyeing the rhubarb in my freezer and wondering what to try to make with it besides my usual strawberry rhubarb pie. Seems like a lot of the classic British desserts suggested for St. George's contain rhubarb. So, over the weekend I decided to try baking a rhubarb brown butter tart.

To test the recipe I decided to try halving the recipe and baking it in one of my mini ceramic pie plates from Pottery Barn. While there is always a danger with proportions in baking, I thought the experiment worth trying. The product was edible but I definitely learned some useful lessons. For example the pie filling in this case was a custard. The custard was set by the baking process but very soft and not the chewy texture suggested by the photographs. However, the texture did firm up significantly after refrigerating overnight. I believe that the issue was that my pie plate has a lot of vertical height, in contrast to the tart pan that would probably lose much more moisture during the baking process and have a distinct texture. Next time I cut a tart recipe I will make sure to use a smaller tart pan rather than a pie plate.

I have in mind to try a few other rhubarb recipes including:
Rustic Rhubarb Honey Almond Tart 

The Recipe:

Makes one 8-9″ tart, 8-10 servings
Almond Press-In Crust:
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup powdered sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on the finished tart
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ chunks
Rhubarb, Bourbon and Brown Butter Filling:
12 ounces rhubarb, trimmed, sliced on the diagonal 1/2″ thick (3 cups)
2 tablespoons organic cane sugar, plus 1/2 cup for the custard
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
2 eggs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons bourbon whiskey
Make the crust:
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350┬║.
In the bowl of a food processor, process the almonds, powdered sugar, salt and flour until the almonds are finely ground. Add the butter, and pulse until the mixture just begins to clump together. Dump the crumbs into an 8 or 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Don’t bother washing the food processor bowl. Press the dough into the sides of the pan first, then the bottom, taking time to make square corners, a neat top, and an even thickness. (If the dough becomes soft or sticky, put the whole pan in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes to firm it up again.) Prick the bottom of the crust all over with a fork. Freeze the crust until firm, 15 minutes, or wrap for longer storage. 
Place the tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet for easy maneuvering, and bake the unlined crust until it is pale golden, 15-20 minutes, rotating after 10 minutes for even browning.
Meanwhile, make the filling:
Toss the sliced rhubarb with 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a medium bowl and set aside to macerate while you finish baking the crust and making the custard.
Place the butter and vanilla pod and scrapings in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over medium heat, swirling occasionally. After about 5-10 minutes, the butter will foam up, turn golden and smell nutty, with brown flecks mingling with black vanilla bean seeds. At this point, remove the pan from the heat. Remove the vanilla bean (you can rinse and dry it and stick it in a jar of sugar, or use it to make vanilla extract). Pour the butter into a heatproof measuring cup to stop the cooking, and let cool 5 minutes.
In the bowl of the food processor, pulse together the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, the flour and salt to combine. Add the eggs, and process until combined. With the motor running, pour in the brown butter, including the brown flecks and vanilla seeds, then the bourbon. 
Assemble, bake, and eat the tart:
Scrape the rhubarb and any juices into the hot, par-baked tart shell in an even layer. Carefully pour the custard over the rhubarb, filling the shell to the brim.
Bake the tart until the filling is puffed and browned, 30-45 minutes, rotating the tart halfway through for even baking. Remove the pan from the oven and let the tart cool until warm. Set the tart on an inverted bowl or ramekin, and ease off the ring. Sprinkle the tart with powdered sugar, cut it into wedges, and serve warm or at room temperature.
The tart keeps well in the refrigerator for several days; re-warm slices in an oven or toaster oven for best results.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

South African Melktert

April 27 is South African Freedom Day and the last of my year of celebrating countries days as a way of increasing my knowledge about the foodways of all the countries of the world. It's been a fun trip. Luckily Houston has gained several South African restaurants including, Peli Peli, Peli Peli Galleria, and Springbok. After moving to my new house I discovered that a nearby gourmet grocery store was actually run by a South African family and they have several South African specialities, borewors sausages, bobotie, Durban bunny chow, chicken curry, etc. A traditional dessert in South Africa is the melktert or milk tart. Apparently Feb 27 is also National Milk Tart Day.

"Melktert stems from the Dutch settlers in the Cape in the 1600s. The origin of Mattentaart is credited to a recipe listed in Thomas van der Noot's book, "Een notabel boexcken van cokeryen" (A Notable Book of Cookery) and it's possible that melktert developed from the same recipe. The large proportion of milk in the filling is evidence that melktert was introduced to us by the Dutch dairy farmers who settled the Cape of Good Hope in the middle of the century. The custard filling is made from milk, sugar and eggs, thickened with flour or cornflour. Cinnamon could be used to infuse the milk with flavour during preparation. Some recipes call for whole eggs, others require the eggs to be separated. The filling can vary in consistency from firm to wobbly."
Peli Peli Melktert
The melktert at Peli Peli is distinct from the typical in that they use a cheesecake type of graham cracker crust to surround the milky center. Unlike other custard tarts that add a large proportion of eggs, the melktert is probably closest to a crusted panna cotta due to its cornstarch thickener but uses milk and condensed milk rather than cream. This gives the dessert a lighter taste that allows you to focus on the taste of milk than cream in panna cotta or eggs in a flan.

While you are at Peli Peli I encourage you to try their other South African foods, particularly the babotie (best version of shepherd's pie with addition of apricot chutney and cilantro), carrot bredie, butter poached kingclip, peppadew peppers, the lamb chops, and the sticky toffee pudding. Very few dishes at Peli Peli don't sing with flavor. Even the side dishes force the eater to take notice of the flavor of corn, tomato, and carrot. Most dishes are executed consistently well. New Zealand lamb is perfectly grilled medium rare, and eggs are poached to perfect runnyness on the brunch menu. The restaurant built their early clientele based on them trying their sticky toffee pudding or their money back. No one seems to be taking back their money. The sticky toffee is approximately 90% dates, and the vanilla ice cream is super cooled in liquid nitrogen so there is a nice contrast between the heat of the cooked pudding and the icy vanilla. Lots of people just come for the desserts alone.


butter poached kingclip

lamb chops in three sauces
sticky toffee pudding with liquid nitrogen cooled vanilla ice cream

This recipe claims to be
The Best Milk Tart To Ever Come Out of South Africa


1 Packet of Tennis Biscuits (These are ordinary plain tea type biscuits that you would normally use for a crumb base.)
Sufficient butter melted to make your crumbs wet enough to press into a dish
Crush the biscuits finely, and mix with the melted butter. Press firmly into a pie dish and place in the fridge whilst you make the rest of the recipe.


1 Tin sweetened condensed milk (385 grams)
2 tins of full cream milk measured in the empty condensed milk can (so don't throw it away)

Put these ingredients into a large heavy based pot and bring to the boil stirring continuously with a metal whisk. The secret: The longer it takes to boil the nicer the end result, so slowly does it on a lowish flame. Once boiling, remove from the heat, and add the following mixture before once again returning to your low heat. Prepare this mixture before starting to boil the milk, so that it is ready as soon as you need it. 

1 Egg (extra large - see note at the end)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) custard powder
1 tsp vanilla essence (5 ml)
2 Tbsp Maizena (corn flour) (30 ml)
1 tin of milk (using that empty condensed milk tin to measure)

Mix the above very well with a wire whisk or hand beater. It must be lump free. Add this to your boiled milk and put back onto a very low heat. It is vitally important to constantly stir this mixture with your whisk, as you do not want lumps, and you don't want it to burn either. Keep scraping the bottom of the pot with the whisk. At the first sign of boiling bubbles turn the stove off, and immediately pour the mixture into your refrigerated crumb base. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon and sugar whilst still hot. Leave to cool completely before covering with foil, and putting into the fridge again for at least 24 hours before serving. 

Make a double recipe (you will see why once you serve it!). If you do make a double, make the following changes: Use 2 heaped tablespoons plus 1 level one of custard powder, and 4 heaped tablespoons plus one level on of the Maizena (corn flour) 

The secret to this recipe is to boil everything very slowly, so don't rush it.

Every country has it’s own standards and regulations how eggs are sized and packed, and in South Africa these things are regulated by the agricultural product standards act: Jumbo eggs >66 grams, X-large eggs >59 grams, Large eggs >51 grams, Medium eggs >43 grams, and Small eggs >33 grams.

A few other versions of the recipe 
Crustless Amarula milk tart (Amarula is a liquor made from a South African fruit related to mangoes)

South African flag

South African plants belong to their own phyla

Recipe for Durban Bunny Chow