Decoding Difficult Menus: What the Heck Is a Meuniere?

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

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

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. 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

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

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

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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How to (Almost) Make a Gingerbread House from Scratch, or, My Epic Holiday Failure

Photo by Carrie Stephens
This is not my gingerbread house.
I love food, but there's a reason I'm a writer and not a chef. I cook a few things very well. I can follow a recipe. I have a good sense of how flavors should go together. I'm actually a wonderful baker.

But events like those that took place last week remind me that I do better work in the dining room than in the kitchen.

I had a vision in my head when I set out -- a vision born of late nights browsing Pinterest and admiring recipes in old-fashioned cookbooks and holiday cheer à la Martha Stewart. If Martha can be the perfect holiday guru, why can't I? Who needs mixes and kits? I'm crafty!

"I can do it!" I thought to myself. "I can make a gingerbread house from scratch! And it will be the most beautiful thing ever, and my friends will bow down to me, a domestic goddess, the creator of Christmas cheer."

Here's how it started...

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UPDATE: SPIKE TV's Frankenfood Casting Call Comes to Houston: Cook Up Something Weird and Win

Photo courtesy of SHARP Entertainment
The sky is the limit in this crazy food creation competition.

Update: The casting call date for Houston has been moved to January 12.
Do you love to cook strange dishes with uncommon ingredients? Or do you love to think out of the box when creating new recipes? Well, SPIKE TV's new show Frankenfood is for you, and on Sunday, December 15, Sunday, January 12, the network is holding an open casting call in Houston.

Everyone from chefs to average Joes and Janes is invited to Sharespace on the 15th January 12, beginning at 10 a.m. to present their crazy culinary creations to two judges and hosts -- New York City chef Josh Capon and actor/restaurateur Tony Luke Jr.

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Extreme Fusion: School Lunch Meets Japanese at Kubo's

Photos by John Kiely
This tastes even better than nostalgia.

No matter how refined my palate becomes, eating in the wonderful and diverse restaurants of Houston, I can still count on keeping a few of the unsophisticated tastes of childhood. The one of which I am least proud is Salisbury steak, as this was a well-executed dish by the lunch ladies of my grade school.

Despite growing up in a different world, my wife has a similar memory, and one day she surprised me with two Banquet Salisbury steak TV dinners, with the fakey mashed potatoes and the corn, and a Stouffer's Mac & Cheese, on the table. "What happened?" I asked. "Are we poor now?" The dinner turned out to be remarkably tasty, rather than a case of misguided nostalgia.

On a recent visit to Kubo's Sushi Bar and Grill in Rice Village, I was pleasantly shocked to see an odd item on the lunch menu. While most non-sushi items at Kubo's are traditional, as evidenced by several tables of Japanese businessmen nearby, one of the bento box lunches was Nikomi Hamburg, described as "Ground beef & pork, braised with a special sweet soy sauce. A Salisbury Steak Dish." My lunch choice was automatic.

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10 Ways to Make Your House Smell Great With Food

Photo by TraCataldo
Let this cook all day and your kitchen will smell amazing.
The holidays are here and floods of family and friends will be showing up at your door -- announced or unannounced. While you could purchase a variety of air fresheners and sprays to make the house smell wonderful, nothing beats the odors that come from the kitchen. Before your guests arrive, use one of these recipes/methods to create amazing, comforting smells throughout your home.

10. Anything in a Slow Cooker

A slow cooker can be your best friend during the colder months. By letting your recipe cook all day, you'll warm up your home and fill it with delightful smells. Whether you want to make pot roast, chicken and dumplings, braised chicken/beef/any meat, you'll come home to comforting and welcoming smells.

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