And then there were three.
Three Canadians in Houston!
One of my friends recently moved here and I could not be more thrilled.
After massive hugs and giggles, Rob and I tried had to pass on our new-found Texan/American wisdom:
1. Beware of the drivers and HUGE potholes. Houston’s roads are pretty atrocious (broken roads explained here)
2. Beware of the new bugs here
4. Get used to the sporadic rain. In Houston, it will rain like crazy for half an hour, then stop and dry up within another hour. I shudder to think what it will be like when a hurricane hits.
5. Locate your closest recycling depot, fastest DMV, nicest bank
6. Speaking of DMV, learn how to import a Canadian car. It needs a special anti-theft check done once a week during a 30 minute window. Yikes!
7. Lament about the terrible cell phone reception, even within our own home
8. Your SSN is very important. You need it to get paid (and open a bank account). When you are ready to get your SSN (do it ASAP, but after they resume working), show up an hour before they open. Even then, there will still be thirty people ahead of you, possibly more since they have been on shutdown
9. Saturday mail. Yes, they deliver mail on Saturdays!
10. Insurance, insurance, insurance… medical, home/rental, car, etc. Credit card? Well, we have yet to get one from a US bank.
… and many more that I have forgotten or have yet to learn
Of course, we also shared our tips for our favourite grocery stores. We tried to explain the awesomeness of Trader Joe’ but we could see it was lost in translation. Thus, we took matters into our own hands. We brought her for a personalized tour of our favourite eats. Cheap pantry staples, beer, almond milk, vegan ice cream, etc… now we’re talking!
Inspired by talking all things local, I went Southern with my meal, too. Similar to my last Southern beans and greens saute, this is a dish that is more than the sum of its parts. The original recipe was just for the citrus collards, but I swapped things around: dates instead of raisins (and less of them) along with chickpeas to make this a complete meal. Collards are local to the Southern United States, especially during the fall, and are best during the winter. I love collards in all of its forms, but it can be bitter if cooked poorly. This dish uses a few techniques to coax the collards into sweet submission.
First of all, this dish a bit more fiddly than a throw-into-the-pan stir fry. The collards are boiled, blanched and dried. This prevents the need to cook them into oblivion. Next, a quick saute is enough to infuse the greens with the sweetness to offset the collards’ astringency. Fresh orange juice and dates provide a great flavour, too. And then I threw in the chickpeas.
It is funny how our taste buds work. We thought this dish was fabulous. It exceeded my expectations. And then Rob said it: it smelled like bacon. The dish had a depth of flavour that was definitely was reminiscent of bacon even though we did not use liquid smoke nor maple syrup. It must be something about sweet, chewy things that reminds us of bacon. In this case, I think it was the caramel undertones from the pan-roasted dates.
Do you have any other tips for moving to the US? Do you feel like your pant-based meals taste like bacon, too?
Rob likes to have dinner themes for his birthday parties. Last year, it was Japanese.
We had planned on going Ethiopian this year, as it is the theme of our current neighbourhood. However, we changed our minds at the last minute because I wasn’t in the mood to cook up 5 different cooked dishes.
While I can dream up menus for days on end, they involve vegan dishes. Rob knew that some of our guests might balk at the lack of meat, so he offered to make a Southwestern Pulled Brisket in the slow cooker. With his meal chosen, I crafted the remainder of the menu with it in mind.
Therefore, this year it was a hodge podge of Southern US and Mexican dishes, foreshadowing our next, next move to Texas in 2013. My (not so) discerning palate can’t tell the difference between Texan and Carolina BBQ styles, but I can tell you how delicious everything turned out.
I was initially hesitant, but Rob encouraged me to try my hand at jackfruit carnitas. We had all the fixings for great tacos for the brisket, so why not have another filling, too?
I eventually settled on a recipe for Carolina BBQ-inspired pulled “pork” from Jessica.
Jackfruit is a fruit from Southeast Asia. Rob tells me it tastes like bubble gum. While the ripe fruit is sweet, you can buy canned young jackfruit in brine, which is quite flavourless. It has been used as a meat substitute due to its texture. After being cooked, it pulls apart into stringy bits akin to pulled pork and beef brisket.
While Rob’s brisket took 8 hours in the slow cooker, my BBQ jackfruit pulled “pork” took an hour, tops.
They key of the recipe is the spice blend, and here we used a plethora of spices to capture a Southern BBQ flavour: sweet smoked paprika, Aleppo chili flakes, mustard, tomato and red pepper pastes, tamarind and vinegar for some tang and sweetness from the maple syrup (yes, that’s 4/8 of my favourite ingredients in one sauce!). Such a glorious BBQ flavour with a bit of a kick. Chile heads, again, feel free to use the suggested cayenne, but I though it was plenty spicy without it. Dry frying brought out the flavours from the dry spices, then a slow simmer expanded the saucy flavours. Baking it firmed up the jackfruit so that it was more akin to pork.
As the jackfruit bakes, or if you are more inclined to make the brisket (it had rave, rave reviews, btw, and Rob loved its sheer simplicity to prepare), make some pickled red onions. I know many people shun fresh red onions, and a quick marinade in vinegar with some salt and sugar can really bring out their flavour. We used the recipe suggested by Deb.
Both the brisket and BBQ jackfruit pulled pork was served with an assortment of toppings – shredded Romaine, chopped tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, sliced cabbage, avocado and the pickled red onions. While we had roti and pitas for guests, I opted to make wraps with Romaine lettuce leaves. The jackfruit was so flavourful that you didn’t need so much per wrap. While Rob’s 3 lbs of beef brisket easily fed 10 people, my 20 oz of jackfruit served more like 2-4 people, depending on how many toppings you added.