Is "the New Cupcake" the Cupcake?

Categories: News, Sweets

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Photo by Nate Steiner via Flickr
Why are cupcakes still popular?
Macarons are the "new cupcake." Or is it pie? Or how about cake balls? No, it's going to be doughnuts. But, what about popsicles?

This has been the non-stop conversation over the cupcake trend since the personal-sized treats topped with a swirl of frosting became popular in the early 2000s. Despite several "new cupcakes" making their appearance in the baked goods market, the cupcake remains the favorite.

A recent Slate article tracked every single food that has ever been labeled as the cupcake's replacement over the past eight years and found that 57 foods were called "the new cupcake" in news articles. In March and April 2010, nine different publications said macarons were the new "it" dessert -- we even supported that claim this past year.

But, if all of these sweets and treats (some were savory, like burgers and hot dogs) were supposed to knock cupcakes off the totem pole, then why haven't bakeries stopped selling them? And why haven't all the cupcakeries gone out of business? We spoke with several bakery owners who all sell cupcakes, whether it's alongside other products or their only product, to share their thoughts on the trend, and if they think the cupcake is on its way out the door.

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Jonathan Jones Brings Interior Mexican Cuisine to El Big Bad and It's Damn Good

Categories: News, On the Menu

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Photo by Mai Pham
Goat Birria, a type of Mexican stew. One of the recent daily specials offered by Jonathan Jones at El Big Bad.

It's Friday evening, just past 6 p.m., and chef Jonathan Jones is moving with ease behind the bar at El Big Bad downtown. He seems comfortable, happy. His mood is decidedly jovial, and he's telling us about the some of the daily specials he's running now that he's taken over as executive chef of the downtown gastro-cantina. They all sound mouthwatering.

"We have St. Louis Berkshire pork ribs glazed with a chile morita sauce," he says, as he describes how he's cooked them so that they're fall off the bone tender. I'm groaning, a sort of half-pain-half-pleasure sort of sound, and tell him: "That sounds so good."

In response, he gives me this confident grin, the one that tells me he knows it's not just good, but damn good, and says somewhat modestly, "It is. It's really good."

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Chris Shepherd of Underbelly Wins James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest

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Photo courtesy Lindsey Brown
Congrats to Chris Shepherd on his big win!
It's about damn time.

It's been 22 years since a Houston chef won an award from the James Beard Foundation--one of the most prestigious organizations recognizing culinary excellence in the United States--but last night that losing streak was broken by Underbelly's Chris Shepherd.

Shepherd was in New York to accept the award, along with fellow nominees Hugo Ortega and Justin Yu. All three were nominated in the Best Chef Southwest category. This was Ortega's third nomination and Yu's second, having previously been nominated in the Rising Star Chef category. We'd been calling Shepherd a three-time nominee too--until now. Now he's a winner.

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UPDATED: As Fees Become Problematic, Restaurants Move Away from OpenTable, But Do They Stay Away?

Categories: Food Fight, News

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Is the OpenTable name worth its major cost?
A few more people in the local restaurant industry chimed in with their thoughts on OpenTable after this article was originally published. You can now read their comments on the next page.

Imagine you own a restaurant, and you want to fill seats. You need to get people to make reservations. So you turn to OpenTable, the number one online reservation software.

It's been around since 1998, so it's had plenty of time to work out the kinks. Nearly 27,000 restaurants around the country use the service to make it quick and convenient for guests to make reservations, even when the restaurants is closed. To many, OpenTable seems like the best bet.

But lately, many restaurants have been switching to other, smaller reservation services due to prohibitive fees from OpenTable. Signing up for the service costs $1,295 just for the software, which OpenTable requires restaurants use. Then there's a monthly fee of $199. Add another $99 a month onto that if you want to be featured in OpenTable's dining guide. It's 25 cents for every reservation booked from the restaurant's website, and $1 for every reservation that comes directly from OpenTable or partner sites like Yelp. On top of that, there's a point system wherein diners earn more points if they book through OpenTable's website. It costs the restaurants more, but diners love it.

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3-D Printed Food Is a Thing...But Do You Want to Eat It?

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Photo courtesy Natural Machines
Hey, Foodini! Make me a sandwich! (Note: It doesn't work like that)
It's called Foodini. Rhymes with Houdini. As if it might, at some point, perform some feat of escape artistry.

It's just a box, though, sort of like a microwave with a computer screen on the front. Capsules containing blended food are loaded into the machine, and it's programmed to squirt out the food mush into geometric shapes and patterns. If the food then needs to be cooked, you cook it.

But the point of Foodini is to cut out the prep time. You don't have sprinkle flour all over a surface to roll out pizza dough. You don't have to shape cookies. You don't have to cut and fill ravioli. Foodini does that for you.

If it sounds a little like something out of The Jetsons, that's not such a stretch.


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PETA Stages Protest Downtown by Dressing Model in Collard Greens

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Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
A volunteer model is covered in collard greens as part of a PETA demonstration.
Today at noon, the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals took their message in support of a vegan diet to the streets of downtown Houston.

Two PETA members planted themselves (pun intended) at the corner of Milam and Congress and proceeded to dress a volunteer model in a floor-length gown made entirely of collard greens. The volunteer held signage and pamphlets in support of PETA, while the other two people used spray adhesive to stick large leaves to her body suit and stockings.

"We really just want to get out the message that there are alternatives to eating meat," one of the PETA members said.

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You Can Now Search Yelp with Emojis (For the Spelling-Challenged)

Categories: News, Off the Wall

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In case words are too difficult for you to manage or you're a 13-year-old girl with an iPhone (you know, when I was your age...), Yelp has just made things a little easier on you.

Now, instead of actually typing words like "pizza" or "hamburger" in the search box when you want to find a restaurant, all you have to do is type an emoji. You know, those little pictographs invented in Japan and now available on just about any smart phone.

The system seems to work pretty well for pizzerias, hamburger joints and ice cream parlors, but avid emoji users will immediately recognize possible shortcomings of the system. How, for instance, is one to find a Mexican restaurant when there's no taco or burrito emoji available? What good is that damn flan emoji? And what happens if you search for something random like, oh, I don't know, that eminently useful Easter Island head?

We did the research so you don't have to.

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State Rep. Jason Villalba Pleads Once Again for Sriracha to Bring Operations to Texas

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Photos from Wikipedia
Rep. Jason Villalba is once again trying to bring the troubled Sriracha plant to Texas.
In January, we told you about Texas state representative Jason Villalba and his quest to convince Huy Fong Foods, Inc. to move to our fair state. At that time, complaints from the city of Irwindale, California, where the plant that makes Sriracha is located, threatened to force the company to halt production of the addictive red hot sauce because of the fumes that were purportedly affecting citizens in the community.

Villalba got wind (so to speak) of the issue, and sent a letter to David Tran, chief executive officer of Huy Fong Foods, Inc., inviting him to move the plant to Texas: "As a public official and a corporate attorney for small businesses, I am extremely troubled by excessive government interference in the operations of private, job-creating businesses like Huy Fong Foods. You have worked too hard and have helped too many people to let government bureaucrats shut down your thriving business."

Huy Fong, Sriracha and Villalba are back in the news this week, as the Irwindale City Council passed a resolution deeming Huy Fong Foods "a public nuisance."

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City Hall Farmers Market to Relocate in May

Categories: Market Watch, News

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Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
The City Hall Farmers Market will move to a new location in the first week of May.
The City Hall Farmers Market must relocate during the first week of May, a change forced by a plumbing project to be carried out on the Reflection Pond at City Hall. The construction is set to begin on May 1, so the market will be heading down the street and around the corner to the front of the Julia Ideson Building of the Houston Public Library at 550 McKinney Street. The market will extend into the Houston Public Library's plaza.

Don't freak out when you head to City Hall for lunch on Wednesday, May 7, and don't see any food trucks or vendors. The market isn't gone, it has simply moved. Tyler Horne, market manager at Urban Harvest, says there won't be much change to the market, just the layout and location.


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Menu of MenusĀ® Draws, and Wows, Huge Crowds of Food Fans

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Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Kevin Naderi works on a dish at Menu of Menus.
Silver Street Station had a lot of new things going on for Menu of MenusĀ® this year. Air conditioning, for one, had people happy to be inside eating warm comfort food from spots like Frank's Americana Revival and Fish & the Knife. There was a lovely photography show up on the walls as part of Fotofest. There were new restaurants like Verts Kebap, Heights General Store and Nara debuting their food for Houstonians, some of whom had never tried it.

But one thing remained the same: Kevin Naderi, chef of Roost, won the competition this year for the third time in a row.

The competition, emceed by Randy Evans of Haven, was fierce--it wasn't clear what Naderi was making until the very end of the 45-minute time limit, while Kevin Bryant, chef of Eleven XI, was very transparent about what he was preparing. In the end, though, Naderi edged out Bryant with his use of the secret ingredient: citrus. The judges all agreed that Naderi put the ingredient to use better than Bryant did, though Bryant's incorporation of the twist ingredient, bananas, with a pistachio mole was masterful.

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