Mongolian Hot Pot

Photos by Jay Francis
It's so refreshing to find a place that isn't afraid to keep the heat in their Mongolian hot pot, spicy version. Here are two excellent places where you can test your tolerance.

I had Mongolian hot pot with a group of Houston Chowhounds at the wonderful Sichuan Cuisine (9114 Bellaire Boulevard). For a fixed price of around $15 a person, the table gets a big pot of broth with several cups of chiles, Sichuan peppers and other spices floating in it (refills are free). You pick and choose your ingredients from a checklist, which was a learning experience. There are some things that, if put in too soon, fall apart and make a complete mess of the soup. Other items are in the Bourdain realm -- chunks of dried blood, for example. Fortunately, we were able to keep some of our more adventurous eaters from adding the wackier stuff.

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The Crema de Chile Poblano at Mexico's Deli

Photos by Jay Francis
Tortas with a slather of frijoles negros on telera bread

Mexico's Deli (2374 Dairy Ashford) still gets my vote for the best and most creative Mexican torta in Houston.

But recently, I tried the crema de chile poblano soup, and it was so good and so spicy, I'm already dreaming of getting to that side of town for another.

Cremas are soups thickened with either milk or cream. You take a vegetable, in this case the fresh chile poblano, sauté it in oil or butter with onion and garlic, puree it and thicken it into a rich soup with cream or milk and chicken stock.

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Las Delicias Mexicanas

Photos by Jay Francis

Las Delicias, a new wholesale/retail store on Airline Boulevard just up from Teotihuacan, is selling traditional Mexican candies. There's the variety made by cooking fresh fruits and vegetables (pumpkin, for example) in sugar syrup, and also ate, a fresh-fruit puree in bar form, hard candies, chocolate-covered peanut marzipan, and the famous goat's-milk dulce de leche known as cajeta.

The word "cajeta" is interesting -- it actually means "little box." Made in Celaya, cajeta originally was packaged in little souvenir boxes for travelers returning to Mexico City. Over time, when people wanted the candy, they would just ask for "cajeta," and the name became synonymous with the candy.

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Fresh Pinto Beans J'Arrivee!

Photos by Jay Francis

Pinto beans have a very short season, which is why you hardly ever see them fresh. But fresh pinto beans, when boiled with a little cilantro, salt, butter and onion, are absolutely delicious. The center is creamy, with the consistency of a chocolate truffle. Dried pintos can be gritty.

Ray himself with fresh pintos

Ray's Produce will have fresh pinto beans this week and possibly next weekend. They are $4 a pound. Ray's is a wholesale/retail venue near the farmers' market at Gibbs and Airline, just across from the new Flores Spices and near El Bolillo Bakery. It stays open until 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

Another Ray's bargain: Instead of paying $1 a pound for navel oranges at the grocery store, which averages out to about a buck an orange, buy a box of 72 here for $18. They've been exceptionally sweet this year. Ray will sell you any quantity of vegetables, too.

If I Could Wine and Dine Guy Fieri

If I could take Guy Fieri out for a taste of Houston I'd do the following in this order (all on the same day...we'd have to start early):

First stop: Crispy puffy tacos at Loma Linda and Los Tios.

Photos by Jay Francis
Puffy tacos at Loma Linda

Puffy tacos at Los Tios

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For The Person Who Has Everything - A Double Wall Stainless Steel Tiffin

Photos by Jay Francis

I discovered Payal at 5615 Savoy (just off of Harwin near Hillcroft) a few years ago when I went in search of some Indian stainless steel cookware. The Indians do spectacular things with stainless steel: dishes, cups, teapots, pressure name it. And when I walked into Payal for the first time, my thoughts went back to the warehouse scene in the 1st Indiana Jones movie.

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Around Town With Jay Francis

Photos by Jay Francis
Plain as far as looks go, but the ladies sure do seem to like him...

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A Tale of Two Rums

Photos by Jay Francis

Just before Christmas I came across this most amazing book and proceeded to learn more about rum and its relation to our history. Wayne Curtis is a spectacularly good writer. I was originally attracted to the book for its section on Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic and the invention of the Mai Tai. It's still my favorite chapter.

Walk down the rum aisle and you'll see lots of choices, and lots of labels, but in the background at the corporate level, there are only a few major players. But thanks to Mr. Curtis, I've discovered two that deserve your attention.

Who would have thought that Guatemala would produce one of the finest rums in the world? Mr. Curtis participated in a 2003 International Rum Festival as a judge and the rum that the judges chose as their baseline to compare all other rums in the competition to was Zacapa.

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So It's Come To This: Jay's Corn Dog Tamales

Photos by Jay Francis
You better believe you deep-fry these suckers.

Well, I decided to take up Robb's challenge and come up with something for the football weekend. But I wanted to push the envelope a little with an over the top, artery clogging, bad for you something. And that something turned out to be corn dog tamales.

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Greek 101

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Robb Walsh wrote about Ekko's this week in the Press. A couple of days ago, someone asked me whether "gyros" was singular or plural and I thought I'd share this with you so that you can dazzle the Greek guy behind the counter the next time you're out and about.

Like many words that come from foreign sources, singular and plural forms of the word get confused when they are used here in the States. "Kolache" and "tamale" come to mind, as the singulars are actually kolach and tamal and the plurals are kolaches and tamales. There's confusion regading "gyros" being singular and/or plural.

The word gyros, meaning "a turn," comes from the fact that the meat is roasted on a vertical, rotating spit. Our words such as gyrate, gyroscope, etc. come from the same Greek root. In Greek, many nouns are given an "s" at the end. But if it is a formal name, you drop the "s" when addressing the person. For example, you would refer to Jesus as Jesus (from the Greekification of "Yeshua", Iesus) if you were writing about him but if you were addressing him you would call him "Jesu".

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