We brought home brisket and pulled pork from Corkscrew BBQ tonight - first time I'd done carryout from them. Very well packaged, arrived in Indian Springs hot and moist. Loved that the pulled pork had its own vinegar-based sauce, a rarity in Texas. Brisket was superb as always.

As Texans, we profess our love of Whataburger, the state's home-grown burger chain.  Founded in 1950 by Harmon Dobson in Corpus Christi, Whataburger is known for its very good burgers, its fantastic customization options, and last but not least, it's delicious Fancy Ketchup.

But 2012 is a time of change (just ask the Mayans) and in honor of the end of the Long Count (ok, not really) Whataburger is introducing its new Spicy Ketchup.  Taking the legendary sweet/savory combination of Fancy Ketchup one step further, Corpus Christi turns to the Valley to turn up the heat, adding real jalapeƱo pepper paste to their established formula.
We'll be waiting on January 2 to check out Spicy Ketchup for ourselves.  (On the fries.  Not on the burger.)  Watch this space for an update.  And if when you try it, let us know what you think.

What's the best part about this time of year?  For us, it's a delicious holiday meal, enjoyed with family and friends.  Wonderful food, great conversation, more food, relaxation.  Well, relaxation for almost everyone.  Not so relaxing for the home chef whose hard work makes the great meal take place:  Creating a menu.  Compiling recipes.  Shopping for ingredients.  Preparation.  Hours of cooking.  Collapsing in exhaustion while everyone eats.  And the worst travesty of all:  Not enough time to watch football.

Being a big fan of both great food and not working too hard, we were wondering if it is possible to use that 21st century concept of outsourcing to allow everyone to enjoy a relaxing holiday meal... even the home chef.  A discussion about this very topic with a friend revealed two opinions:  He was sure that no "take out" meal could compare to homemade, and I opined that a professional chef working in a commercial kitchen could prepare a meal that was easily superior to what even an advanced home chef could create.

Always up to a challenge, our friends at Hubbell & Hudson generously offered to send over one of their popular holiday dinners to see how it measured up to homemade.  Since we're willing to make sacrifices and research this tasty quandry for our readers, we took 'em up on their offer and received two well-packed boxes filled with ready-to-heat components of a complete holiday meal for a big family.

Well packaged dishes

We opened the boxes, and found all of the courses expertly packed and in perfect condition.  We followed the dead simple heating instructions (also available on the website if you misplace the included paper... don't ask me how I know this.)  Once we were done, we spread them out and invited the assembled omnivores to dig in.

Hubbell & Hudson's Holiday Ho-Ka Turkey Dinner

First to be attacked were the side dishes.  A container of whipped sweet potatoes was pure in its simplicity - we detected nothing other than sweet potatoes in the dish.  I think this is a wise choice; you can complement it with caramel syrup and marshmallows if you want something extremely sweet, or with a simple bit of butter and nutmeg if you want something more savory.

Next up were the green beans.  The fresh, lightly cooked beans were topped with sliced almonds and gently seasoned, and the result was light and refreshing.  Our teenagers, not normally drawn to vegetables, made sure that we had no leftovers.

Green Beans that appealed to our teenagers.  Remarkable.

No turkey dinner is complete without dressing, and here we found the only misstep.  Hubbell & Hudson used sweet cornbread in its dressing, and we felt that the sweetness of the bread was slightly overpowering.  A more neutral cornbread recipe would have resulted in a dish skewed more toward the savory, and that would have made us happier.

The centerpiece of the meal was the whole roasted turkey.  A free-range, naturally brined Howard Kaufman Farms turkey is roasted in-house at Hubbel & Hudson after receiving a savory, herbal house rub.  The result is a delightfully juicy bird that has a rich, savory flavor throughout.  Dark meat was deliciously flavorful, and the white breast meat (often dry when you buy a turkey and prepare it at home) was moist, subtly herbal, and in short, delicious.

We can't eat turkey without cranberry sauce, and Hubbell's was remarkable.  Whole cranberries are seasoned with plenty of rosemary and a hint of orange, and the sauce was actually more of a relish - one that was fruity, complex, and utterly captivating.  We wouldn't hesitate to spread this on a cracker and enjoy it even without the turkey.

For dessert, two pies were included.  First up is the classic Texas Pecan Pie.  After sampling this pie, no one can call Hubbell & Hudson stingy with the pecans; the pie was chock full of huge pecan pieces, with only a tiny bit of the sweet syrupy binder that holds the pecans together.  The result is a pie rich in the flavor of roasted pecans, and not overpoweringly sweet.

Pecan Pie

Next is the Hubbell & Hudson pumpkin pie.  This rich, dense pie isn't your mother's pumpkin pie - the fresh pumpkin flavor is complemented by the complexity of significant spicy tones, most promiently ginger.  Picking up a slice I was surprised by its weight - I can't ever remember seeing a more lush pumpkin pie.

Trying to fight off the impending coma caused by consuming this epic meal, I have to conclude that my original opinion was confirmed: The pros at Hubbell & Hudson could create something that I could never hope to duplicate on my own.  It's going to be tough next year to hunt down all the ingredients, slave away over the hot stove for hours, and end up with a result that doesn't measure up to this meal.

On the other hand, I can always call Hubbell & Hudson next time.  That would leave more time for watching football...

Hubbell & Hudson | Catering Information | 281-203-5600

We're fans of Coal Burger, the Arizona-based burger chain from the Grimaldi's Pizza folks.  Their Woodlands Waterway location is the first store outside of Arizona, and we think they serve an excellent burger.

But we've heard reports of some less-than-spectacular burgers being served.  The culprit is overcooked beef.  But the mastermind behind Coal Burger, Chef Bradford Thompson, has devised a simple solution to the problem.

The original Coal Burger was architected around a quarter-pound patty.  The half-pound burger was simply two of these patties, stacked up.  The good news is that there is plenty of exposed surface to hold an aggressive char.  The downside is that the interior of the burger gets hot quickly, and unless the cooking is perfectly timed, all the juices evaporate in the intense heat of the coal-fired oven (over 1000 degrees.)  A juicy Coal Burger is a superlative burger, a dry one loses a good deal of its appeal.  So how do you keep the patty from drying out as it cooks and develops that wonderful char?

The solution is an elegantly simple one:  Enlarge the patty.  The petite quarter-pound patty is now a thicker third-pound patty, and the larger mass of beef holds up better to the intense heat, holding in the juices with aplomb.  Patrons preferring a larger burger now get their half-pound of beef in a single patty.

The new third-pound Coal Burger

After learning about this clever solution, we wanted to grab a table and sample the result.  This led to discovering the other big change at Coal Burger - table service in the evenings.  A hostess, plenty of waiters and tables dressed with silverware and cloth napkins contribute to the decidedly upscale atmosphere; the view overlooking the sparkling lights of Waterway Square completes the setting.

Table service at night, and a beautiful view

We found the idea of table service to be pretty unique for a burger joint, albeit a high-end one occupying prime real estate in the Woodlands.  Coal Burger's staff made it work well; waiters are friendly, service is good, and the result makes for a great date night experience.

So how was the burger?  In short, it's the bacon cheeseburger of backyard dreams, but now with a thicker, beefier, jucier patty.  High quality cheese (American for us.)  Thick cut, smoky bacon.  Fresh veggies.  And that's a win in my book.

We like the changes at Coal Burger, and applaud the attention of Chef Bradford and his staff to refining a great burger experience and making it even better.

Coal Burger on Urbanspoon

Have you ever wondered why the spectacularly lovely burger you see in a fast food commercial actually looks like a sad, dreary shadow of its buffed-up self when it is served to you?

Our friends at Snotr (we just link to 'em, we didn't name 'em) have an answer.

WARNING: Turn down the sound before you press play.  This video is LOUD.

Copyright 2023 Nurick + Associates