UPDATED: HISD Students Are Cooking Up Change

Courtesy of Healthy Schools Campaign and HISD
Winning students from last year's Cooking Up Change competition
"Cooking up Change" is a competition for high school culinary students that challenges them to create school menu items that are healthy, compliant with USDA guidelines and within a budget of a mere $1.40 per meal. It's the same kind of budget constraint that food services programs in public schools face every day.

Updated 4/1/2015, 1:17 p.m.: A big "congratulations" goes out to Westside High School Students Jose Acosta, Jalien Noel and Alejandra Olivares (see photo below). They won the competition with their Cajun Chicken Drumstick with Black Bean Hoppin' John, Texas Cabbage and Greens and a Pineapple Dessert.

Photo courtesy of HISD
Westside High School students won the 2015 Cooking Up Change competition

The Houston competition is this Saturday, March 28, and seven teams from four Houston Independent School District campuses are participating. This year, the teams hail from Barbara Jordan, Davis, Milby and Westside high schools.

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Try These 5 Monster Sandwiches in Houston

Photo by David Hale Smith
This bbq sandwich has everything but the kitchen sink...and then some.
From triple deckers loaded with slaw and delicatessen to a bbq number stacked with everything but the kitchen sink, here are five awesomely massive sandwiches to try in Houston:

See also:
Try These 5 Absolutely Loaded Pizzas
Try These 5 Absolutely Loaded Fries
Try These 5 Chili-Smothered Dishes

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Back to School: Feed Your Kids Like a Chef

Photo by Melissa
What did you have for lunch as a kid?
As the start of another school year approaches, we've got school lunches on the mind.

Mostly, when we think of school lunches, we picture cafeteria trays with grayish glop in each compartment, and we think of all the debates over what should or should not be given to growing kiddos. The vast majority of children eat cafeteria food every day, but those who don't rely on their parents to pack the good stuff.

And who gets the best stuff? Chefs' kids, of course.

Well, that's debatable, according to some chefs. Ryan Lachaine of Reef packs lunches for his twin boys, but, he notes, "I don't know that it's gourmet. There's not a lot of technique involved in making a fucking turkey sandwich."

Still, some chef's kiddos probably eat better than most of the country, and it's clear that many chefs place a greater emphasis on healthy eating than many parents.

Here's what some of Houston's culinary moms and pops give their children for lunch.

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Torta Cubana at La Guadalupana Bakery & Café

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Torta Cubana
Whenever I feel nostalgic for Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, I visit La Guadalupana Bakery & Café. During the period that I resided in that Boston suburb, I did my laundry each week at a laundromat next store to a terrific restaurant, El Oriental de Cuba, and in between cycles I frequently chowed down on their plantains, rice, and beans.

Although in Houston I have a washer and dryer onsite at my apartment complex, I am tickled that I still have the option of doing a load of whites and enjoying a good meal at the same time via La Guadalupana's proximity to coin laundromat. No matter that their focus cuisine is Mexican rather than Cuban--even better, actually, because that means I can have one of their wonderful tortas.

I very much like the Café's chicken and milanesa tortas, but my absolute favorite is the torta cubana.

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Kevin Naderi Talks Lillo & Ella and Lunch & Brunch

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Buddha welcomes you to Lillo & Ella.
Last week was a big one for Kevin Naderi.

The chef of Roost not only opened his second restaurant, Lillo & Ella, but also braved the television game show circuit, appearing on Sunday's episode of the Food Network's Guy's Grocery Games.

He came in second on the show--"I was the winner in my parents' eyes," he says laughing. "That's all that counts."--but where the restaurant is concerned, things are going great. After officially opening to the public on Tuesday, May 20, Lillo & Ella has been drawing large dinner crowds and a slow but steady lunch clientele.

"If you look around here, everybody's busy at lunch, but it does take some time to build up your name," Naderi says. "My biggest challenge is getting people to spend an extra $2 at lunch instead of wanting to go to the more affordable joints around here."

Based on my recent lunch at Lillo & Ella, though, I'd say it's worth it.

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The Five Best Spots in Houston for Take-Out and a Picnic

Photo courtesy Google Earth
Bring your burgers to Watonga Park in Garden Oaks, and soak up some sun.
What is up with this Spring?

Usually by this time of year we're all cranking up the ACs as high as they can go and wishing we had oxygen masks when we go outside so we could breathe a little easier in the hot soup-like air. But something weird is going on this year. It's actually still kind of nice outside. Of course, putting that in print is bound to jinx it, but while there's still a nice breeze happening and temperatures in the 75 to 85-degree range, I say we get out and soak it up.

Instead of slaving over the perfect picnic, though, why not let someone else do the work for you? Here are the best spots in town where you can get food to-go and dine al fresco.

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Where to Get Food and Booze-a Near Comicpalooza

Chuck Cook Photography
All the ladies love a Stormtrooper, expecially if he's buying. (Shot at The Pastry War.)

One of the best ways to guarantee you enjoy any convention is to remember to take breaks away from it. After hours of being on your feet among thousands of fellow fans, it's important to get away for an hour or two, sit down for a while and get some nourishment. Besides that, do you really want to spend your money on overpriced "con food" inside the convention hall when there are plenty of good places to eat and drink within half a mile? (Okay, maybe you do if you're waiting to meet Stan Lee...but after that...)

The following places have confirmed that they welcome your business during Comicpalooza, even if you are in costume. In fact, some of these places really want you to show up if you're in costume. In costume or not, remember your dining-out manners. Just because you're dressed like The Joker doesn't give you a license to try and act like him.

As far as cosplayers walking to restaurants and bars, Houston hasn't reached the level of San Diego, where cosplayers essentially take over the area of downtown near the convention center. However, we'll never get that kind of environment without a few of us brave ones starting the trend. Walking with a few companions will likely give you the most comfortable experience.

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Taco Bell Hack With McDonald's Habanero Ranch Sauce

Categories: Fast Times, Lunch

Photos by John Kiely
Move over Cool Ranch. Here come Habanero Ranch.

Sometimes I fancy that I've had my lifetime supply of McDonald's, but the food wizards of Oak Brook, Illinois keep pulling me back with their culinary tweaks. Recently, it's McDonald's coffee, which is better than half the blends at Starbucks down the street, and Habanero Ranch Sauce.

The McDonald's at Ella Blvd and the 610 North Loop makes exceptionally good French fries if you get them at the high-turnover times of lunch and dinner. A co-worker, who grew up with a New York habit of dipping them into ranch dressing, recently became a chili addict, and started dipping her fries into the Habanero Ranch Sauce. Other people in the office thought her crazy, because the Habanero Ranch is surprisingly and definitely hot.

I tried the combo, and it was indeed crazy. Crazy delicious.

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First Look at Café Hélène in Midtown

Minh T Truong
I won't go into a long history lesson but much of Vietnam's culture is heavily influenced by its long history with France. Everything from the architecture (French Colonial), to the language (French origin words, i.e., xa lát from salade, pho mát, from fromage) and of course the food (baguettes, coffee, pate). When I heard Café Hélène, touted as Vietnamese cuisine with a French twist, was opening in Midtown, I wondered what exactly that meant. It's such a natural combination so I was excited to see what they would bring.

Café Hélène is on Main at the corner of Rosalie. At first glance it is an odd location but it's a location that should benefit from all of the new residential construction in Midtown, it's proximity to the rail line and the HCC building. The restaurant itself is very modern, a lot of natural light and red tones, high booths and tall communal sized tables. There's even an outdoor covered patio and a small bar serving wine and beer.

On my first visit there, there was only one other table seated in the restaurant for lunch on a Saturday but on my second visit on a weekday, I could see that many of those working in nearby buildings had caught wind of the month old restaurant. Counter service is quick and the service extremely friendly -- from the moment we walked in to the moment we walked out the door there were always warm smiles and thank yous.

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Fish on Friday: It's a Good Thing

Categories: Lunch

Photos by John Kiely
Doesn't seem like much of a sacrifice to have this for lunch.

It's a cinch to give up meat for Lent on the seafood-abundant Gulf Coast. But I grew up in the landlocked Midwest, and during the weeks leading up to Easter my parents had a fondness for baked haddock, one of the fishiest-tasting fish I know. I ate a lot of macaroni and cheese.

When I balked, my parents told me I was lucky, as they abstained from meat every Friday of the year when they were young. That threw me, as I'd always thought it of a give-up-stuff-for-Lent sort of thing, a question of sacrifice and spiritual discipline. So, why did the rule change, and where did the practice originate?

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