Friday, May 28, 2010

A Super Indo-Pak Attak: Sheikh Chilli's

Published by Commandrea (Andrea Afra) at 4:52 PM

This review epitomizes the tagline of this food blog- Why Houston is Awesome, Mouth First. Houston's awesomeness lies not in the glory of its history or architecture or progressiveness or much of anything that would get us noticed for a positive reason, but it's what the people who live here contribute that makes our city special in spite of its shortcomings.

Yes, our public transportation is a joke, our 'green' ratings are among the lowest in the country, and our solution to just about any problem is to add another lane. But you know what? We have something a lot of other places don't. Food. Glorious food. I would say that, yes, Jeffe, we do have a plethora of places and cuisines to choose from and that is what makes Houston awesome.

Let's say it's nearing midnight and you're feeling the hungerbird pecking* and you're really not in the mood for drive thru or taqueria food. You want something spicy, different, goaty perhaps, and you're willing to drive ten minutes away to get it. Here's the awesome part: There is a place that has been open until at least 2am for the last 26 years and yes, they have goat.Sheikh Chilli's, an Indian-Pakistani restaurant just north of 59 S. on Hillcroft, is tucked into a strip center along with several other interesting restaurants ranging from Salvadorian and Honduran food to a halal meat market and an intriguingly seedy looking game room.
Inside, Sheikh Chilli's is large but rather simply laid out with several booths and tables and a row of tall potted plants dividing the room. A few framed Arabic calligraphy pieces hang on the wall above the counter. There is coin operated Accurate Weight machine at the door along with a rack for Indian publications and entertainment flyers. Like most Indo-Pak restaurants I've been to, there is a television playing popular Indian music videos that are highly entertaining to say the least.

Majid is the owner and Babu is the chef. I didn't see Babu, who is from India, but Majid, who is from Pakistan, has always been there when we've gone to eat. He is soft spoken and kind with tan skin and eyes the color of a shallow lagoon. He took over when Azhar, the original owner, passed away a few years ago.

Ordering at Sheikh Chilli's can be a little confusing at first if you don't know your 'murgh' from your 'gosht' (chicken and goat) but that's what I'm here for.

At lunch time you get to choose from a meat and several sides and it's all served on an old school cafeteria tray. And by school, I mean public school, as in plastic, divided, institutional yellow trays. I love it.

There are several specials each day to choose from ranging from Saturday's fish masala to Thursday's gosht curry. (Friday night is Brain Masala...I dare you!)

This here is drinking food. Most of the curries are heavy and thick and the spice infused oils rise to the surface. The goat here is excellent, especially the tender roasted bone in cuts used in the curries; I ordered the Wednesday special, bhona gosht, a thick cumin-forward goat (gosht) curry (bhona).

The chicken tikka was spicier than most other places and offered on the bone which is a rarity. We also ordered the bengan, eggplant, which was the vegetable of the day. It's spicy and tangy, sauteed with tomatoes and garlic until it's almost a puree.

Try the sag paneer if they have it- it's super rich. There are a lot of menu items they don't have at some times but that's to be expected at any down home no-frills eatery, right?

If they're out of samosas, skip the pasties- a deceptively flaky looking savory pastry that turned out to be bland and dry.

I have to admit, I was a little afraid of Sheikh Chillies the first time I went for lunch, scared in the sense that I didn't know what I was getting my stomach into, but my fears were baseless, everything was delicious, and I polished off the whole tray plus an extra piece of naan.

The next time someone says they're in the mood for Indian, surprise them with a real taste adventure for their mouth and head for Sheikh Chillies. Then thank me in the comments for enlightening you with this old school find.

Sheikh Chilli's Restaurant

6121 Hillcroft Street, Houston - (713) 995-6768

Sheikh Chilli's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Suburban Saturday breakfast at Fountain View Cafe

Published by Commandrea (Andrea Afra) at 12:40 AM

Looking around the dining room at Fountain View Cafe, I said to my husband, "Notice anything about this place?"

"You mean how homogenized it is?"


Sometimes, when dining in particular regions of Houston, such as Tanglewood, one finds that the majority of the patrons, if not all, are Caucasians (like me, but I'm 1/16th Cherokee Indian so...I kid). After being married to an Arab for nearly ten years, you start noticing these things when you realize, "That's funny, my spouse is the only customer in here that would get extra scrutiny at the airport." It's true. If you've ever tried flying with an Arab partner, you'll know that you should arrive at the airport even earlier than usual because it is guaranteed there will be 'delays'.

Our food finally started coming out of the kitchen so I had a distraction from my overly observant imagination. True to the area's demands, there was none of that hippie shit turkey or veggie breakfast meat options, and since we don't eat pork, I had to do without. Disappointment turned to delight when my potato and Swiss omelet with a short stack of pancakes arrived.

My husband ordered an egg white omelet and a bowl of oatmeal, aiming for healthy options. While his omelet looked as good as mine tasted, the oatmeal was sitting under a puddle of butter. Who would order that stuff if they weren't looking for a diet friendly breakfast?

I love all cuisines, but when it comes to breakfast, nothing beats a home-style Southern spread. Eggs, hashbrowns, biscuits, pancakes- no regrets. The hashbrowns were great in that they lacked that reconstituted potato flavor you find at a lot of diner style breakfasts. The biscuits were those fluffy buttermilk kind that resemble the pull apart dinner rolls, definitely good but not as good as the pancakes. The 'short' stack was two large, thin pancakes topped with fresh blackberries. I smooshed the berries up a bit with my fork and took a bite with the pancake and proceeded to push all of the other food away and focus solely on those flapjacks. I think I might have growled a little when the kids went to take a bite. In the end, there was plenty left to take home and I just polished them off around 2am this morning after remembering I had leftovers in the fridge while writing this, and they were still pretty delicious.

The fact that they serve a great breakfast all day, every day has deterred me from trying their lunch or dinner menu. Sorry, you're on your own there. It's just not the kind of place I'd go out of my way for at dinner, though I do love how the daily specials are printed out a la 80s public school style.

If you're looking for a great Sunday breakfast spot, don't come here. The place is white ass to elbow for most of the morning and into the afternoon. We went on a Saturday and didn't have to wait in line.

So the next time you're headed to Doneraki on a Saturday like we were, not knowing that their bad ass Mexican brunch buffet is now open only on Sundays, just head over to nearby Fountain View Cafe and bulk up on some desayunos de gringos instead.

Fountain View Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Extermi-cake :: Dalek Cake

Published by Commandrea (Andrea Afra) at 12:52 AM

This is a cake I made for my oldest son's 9th birthday. I'm just posting it for old time's sake.

I’ve made my sons’ birthday cakes every year and each time I somehow come up with something twice as difficult as the year before but it’s great fun and worth it when my boys see it finished for the first time. This is a Dalek robot from Doctor Who. I totally free-styled the design of the cake but I will try to relay the process here. Hint: It’s not just cake…

I will list the ingredients below but it’s up to you to get creative and put it all together so get ready to be covered in chocolate for the next few hours.

  • One batch of chocolate cupcakes (Box mix again, the kids won’t mind)

  • 4 Chocolate Moon Pies

  • 10 mini tootsie rolls

  • 25 Chocolate malt balls (bulk style candies)

  • 10 Peanut butter balls (if you can’t find these just try to find a lighter colored ball (gumballs?)

  • 4-6 Peanut Butter Cups (Small- Reese’s style)

  • 10 white chocolate melting ‘buttons’

  • 4 cups of ganache. Try this recipe:

  1. Invert bowl cake flat side down on circular cake platform thing. I used cardboard on a cookie sheet. Cover it in ganache. That is the Dalek’s base.

  2. For the torso I rigged two cupcakes that had been cut in half (tops cut off) and four Swiss Rolls to form a circular shape on top of the base. Place the cupcakes cut side in along the top of the base and use the Swiss Rolls (OR appropriately carved cupcakes) to fill in the gaps, rounding out the body. Cover in ganache. Then put one of the cupcake tops on top of this, and cover it in ganache.
  3. Place one Chocolate Moon Pie on top of the cupcake top and put a dollop of ganache in the center to affix a peanut butter cup and put a dollop of ganache on top of that and stack up three more Moon Pies, using ganache as your glue.
  4. Finally, cover another cupcake top in ganache and stick it on the top Moon Pie. You know how the figure completed. On to the detail work.
  5. Arms: I used Tootsie Rolls as modeling clay and formed these weird pincher arms/hands.
  6. Eye: Peanut butter cup glued with ganache to head, with white chocolate button affixed with ganache
  7. Antenna: Stack of white chocolate buttons held together with one melted white chocolate button. I then made a little hole in the top with a toothpick to support the candle.
  8. Buttons and lights: Peanut butter cup for dial, malt balls for decoration, affixed with ganache.
  9. Congratulations. You’ve reached the end. I passed out the extra cupcakes and candy mainly so I could have more cake to myself :) It was delicious and will serve at least twenty. Cutting it up is the fun part because everyone can pick which part they want to eat.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tofu (If you have to)- Oven Fried Tofu Sticks

Published by Commandrea (Andrea Afra) at 5:09 PM

I am still trying to figure out how to make this wiggly, jiggly, pigment challenged, protein by-product more palatable, and while this recipe would be better if the tofu was substituted with, oh let's say, Brie or Chevre or shrimp or chicken or probably just about anything with a little fat and flavor, honestly, it didn't turn out half bad. In fact, I guess it was pretty damn good. I'm just a little reluctant to give up on my anti-tofu stance yet. I am, after all, a Texas T-bone and tri-tip kinda girl at heart. This one's for my ova-lacto-homies, as the recipe does contain an egg for the dredge. The tofu is pictured served with a Panang chicken curry, and they were great dipped in the excess sauce, as well as the other one I threw together with a fish sauce base.

Okay, so. You need:

1 pound firm tofu, cut into strips and drained well

2 cups bread crumbs, either panko, or crackers will do. Cornflakes or crisp rice might be nice too...

2 TSBP cornstarch, more or less

1 egg

1/4 cup of milk or water

1 tsp salt

Seasonings of your choice- I used some garlic powder, dried parsley, salt, fresh ground pepper


1. Preheat oven to 375F.

2. Spray or smear a baking sheet with a thin coat of oil.

3. First, pat your tofu dry and sprinkle it with the cornstarch.

4. In a bowl, whisk together milk/water, egg, and 1 tsp salt.

5. On a plate or pie dish, toss together the bread crumbs and seasonings.

6. Carefully dip the strips of tofu into the dredge and let the excess drip off.

7. Press a dredged strip into the bread crumb and seasoning mixture. Turn it over and around and press the crumbs into the tofu or else it will fall off. Did the tofu break? I said be careful...

8. Lay the strip on the baking sheet and repeat step six and seven until you are done and your fingers look like the Swamp Thing trying to eat Saltine crackers. You'll see...

9. It puts the pan into the oven. Wait about 20 minutes then start peeking in to see what the browning looks like. I think I left mine in around 35-40 minutes before they got to a nice color.

10. Remove the pan from the oven. Turn off your oven. Serve the tofu sticks with your choice of sauce.

Sauce: May I suggest a Thai lime and fish sauce sauce with a bit of honey and some fresh, thinly sliced shallot or green onion and Thai chilies. Use 1 part fish sauce to 3 parts lime juice, a tbsp of honey, whisk together. Add scallions and chilies. Ta dow. Now go eat your dirty little tofu sticks and love them.