8 Holiday Foods I'd Like to See Banished Forever

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Photo by Suzi Duke
"You found this where, Aunt Meg? I'll pass thanks."
It won't be long until Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, bringing friends and family together to celebrate over a good meal. Some of those holiday feasts can be massive in scale, and there tend to be a few dishes unveiled that are rarely, if ever, brought out the rest of the year. Some of them are almost universally loved, but others? Others are abominable horrors that this writer would be happy to see forever banished from his family's table.

8. Fruit cake

Seriously, fruit cakes are like an unfunny joke that refuses to go away. I'm sure someone somewhere loves these textural nightmares, but I have yet to meet anyone under the age of 70 that does. Is anyone really happy when their Aunt Meg shows up with one of these things in tow?

7. Cheese Logs

While certainly not in the "culinary horror" category that fruit cake resides in, there's always been something vaguely unsatisfying to me about most cheese logs and cheese balls. It's not the cheese, and it's not the nuts they're usually rolled in. I like both of those things on their own. But something weird happens when the two are mixed. It's a texture thing I guess, but I don't like it. If I try to dig out a little cheese for a cracker, the nuts seem to act as an armor-like barrier.

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Houston's Best Flaming Dishes and Drinks (in Honor of Pride Week)

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Photo courtesy Oceanaire
Have your dinner (or dessert) with some flair.
Everybody loves a good show at dinner, and in honor of Pride Week here in Houston, we're looking at some of the most flamboyant flammable dishes in town.

To flambé a dish is to do more than merely set food in a pan on fire. In order for something to be flambéed, sauce containing alcohol must be lit on fire, either with a match or lighter or by tilting the edge of the alcohol-filled pan toward the burner until the heat ignites the liquid.

The surface of burning alcohol reaches temperatures greater than 500 degrees Fahrenheit, which causes chemical reactions to take place in the food/sauce that's been ignited. The technique is frequently used in the preparation of desserts, because heating the sugar to such temperatures causes it to caramelize.

Whether it's a dessert, a main dish or a drink, though, a little fire sure makes things more exciting.

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Make S'mores With the Marshmallows From Petite Sweets

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Photo by Molly Dunn
This marshmallow is topped with a drizzle of chocolate sauce and studded with toffee bits.
Petite Sweets is known for bite-size cupcakes, creamy custards, beautiful macarons and other delightful treats. But, you probably didn't know this West Alabama dessert shop sells a variety of marshmallows.

Arrayed in glass jars on the counter, there was a green one decorated in crushed pistachios, a few white ones with caramel drizzle, almond slivers and coconut shavings, and one I could easily identify as cookies & cream. "Petite Sweets makes marshmallows?"

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The Spicy Stuff: Ro-Tel Five Ways

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Photo by Catherine Gillespie
Ro-Tel and Noodles Two Ways

Anyone born south of the Mason-Dixon line can tell you how to crowd-pleasing queso with only two ingredients. I'm no big fan of Velveeta, but its partner Ro-Tel has become a staple in my kitchen over the past few months.

Until I began writing this story, I had no idea Ro-Tel was native to Texas. The canned tomato and chile mixture was born in not-to-distant (at least by this state's standards) Harlingen in the 1940s, according to wikipedia.com, and it can be acquired for just under a dollar at most local groceries. So stock up and try tossing a can of the zesty veggie blend into your next pot of anything.

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Decoding Difficult Menus: What the Heck Is a Meuniere?

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Photo by F. Cuauhtemoc
You want the huitlacoche? Are you sure about that?
With all of the unique ethnic restaurants in Houston, deciding what to order at an exotic eatery can be a challenge. Not necessarily because it all sounds amazing--sometimes you just don't know what the heck any of the words mean.

Listing every ingredient and cooking process used in every restaurant around Houston or even by every ethnicity with a restaurant in town would be insane (though very helpful). Instead, we've compiled a list of some of the words and phrases seen most commonly on menus at restaurants that range from Mexican to Indian to upscale American. We've defined them for you here, so next time you see huitlacoche on a menu, you can confidently say, "Yes, I'll have the corn smut, please."

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Lonely Leftovers: Get More From Your Spinach-Artichoke Dip

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Photo by Ninacoco
Spinach and Artichoke Dip in its original form

Someone once told me that it's not a party without spinach and artichoke dip. Keeping this old adage in mind, I made a batch of the gooey three-dairy dip for my recent housewarming. Only I forgot to take the casserole out of the oven until everybody had filled their bellies with Lone Star. Not wanting to put an entire container of cream cheese to waste, I wrapped seven-eights of the stuff up in tinfoil and put it in the fridge.

Unless you're having another party sometime really soon, there is not that much that you can do with old artichoke dip. I can tell you firsthand, it's not like hummus. Snacking on this Super Bowl Sunday staple alone in early April makes you feel pretty bad about yourself.


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Leftover Rice From Indian Takeout? Make Kheer

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Photo by Sara Maternini
Kheer is an easy dessert for a busy night.

We have a lot of extra cooked rice in the house these days. My husband has been on an Indian cooking kick, and he successfully made several amazing batches of rogan gosh, fish masala and chicken vindaloo. He has been less successful in gauging how much rice we would consume with these dishes, which is why when every last drop of curry has been consumed, there's usually a plastic container of basmati rice left.

I have this thing about throwing out food (I have been called a "leftover hoarder"), so rather than just dump the orphan grain, I decided to resurrect the rice by making kheer.

Kheer is a rice pudding of sorts that you've probably encountered at the terminal end of an Indian lunch buffet. Traditionally served just a bit cool and boasting a sweet-flowery flavor, kheer is a wonderful sweet comfort food for spring.

I first tried kheer when I was volunteering in Himachal Pradesh. Despite the fact that I was perpetually battling gastrointestinal problems due to being unaccustomed to local water and produce, I always made room for a large bowl of dairy-heavy kheer at the end of my meals. In northern India, vermicelli is often used instead of basmati rice to make kheer. Ecurry.com provides a fairly labor-intensive recipe punctuated by many drool-worthy pictures.

Back in the States, I tried the more common rice-based kheer, which I prefer for its heartier texture.

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Avocado Love: Three Things That Are Not Guacamole

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Photo by Catherine Blanchard
Coconut Avocado Ice Cream
Lifetime Houstonians may not know what a luxury it is to have year-round access to avocados. Three short weeks was long enough for me to learn that there is only so much guacamole one person can eat. With five avocados still ripening in my kitchen, I thought there just had to be another way to use them. Turns out, there are many. Here are three of my favorite alternative avocado recipes.

Pureed avocados make for more than a great dip. Blend two with one garlic clove (minced), the juice of a lemon, crushed red pepper flakes, a glug of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste for a creamy pasta sauce; it is by far the cleanest, fastest and most vegan cream sauce out there. All you need is a cutting board, a knife and a food processor of some kind. I mixed all the ingredients with an immersion blender, adding a cup of pasta-cooking water at the end to thin out the sauce without adding unnecessary oil.


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Pinky Stars at Texas Star Grill Shop

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Grills for your backyard, not your teeth.

It's hard to ignore a large metal pig, even when you're zipping home from the gym gravely in need of some post-workout fuel.

Trust me, I know from experience. Rubbernecking at my giant porcine friend while she stands proudly in the window of the Texas Star Grill Shop has become somewhat of a morning ritual.

As you may have inferred from her location, Pinky (as I like to call her) is not simply the latest creation of some metal-working Montrose artist, but a fully functioning outdoor grill and smoker. I have often fantasized about buying Pinky as a wedding present for friends of mine, a couple who harbor a swine (culinary) fetish, or purchasing her as a (surprise!) anniversary present for my husband.

But to do so, I would first have to stop ogling her and actually go visit Pinky at The Texas Grill Shop.


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How To: Make Super Bowl Jell-O Shots in Your Team's Colors

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Photo by Monica Fuentes
Make Jell-O shots in honor of the Broncos and Seahawks for the Super Bowl
The Super bowl is back this weekend, and though our beloved Texans won't be there this year (or ever again if we have another season like this past one), it's still a great time to cheer on our new favorite team with junk food and far too much alcohol.

We've already made some food suggestions, like what to order online and what to make to pair with the two teams, but you're also going to need some booze. And what goes better with a football game than...Jell-O shots? OK probably beer, but Jell-O shots are much more festive.

But don't make just any Jell-O shots ... Make ones with two or three colors to provide a sensory extravaganza as the flavors mix and mingle in your mouth!

Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. Still, these tri-colored shots are pretty nifty and super-easy to make, and they go really well with our Battle Drink Superbowl BINGO!


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