IT'S FALL, YOU GUYS. WE MADE IT. In the words of noted pot roast and red cabbage fan Gerald R. Ford, our long national nightmare is over. At least until April.
Granted, the autumnal equinox only just took place this past Saturday. And it's still pretty damn hot outside. But the cooler air has been sneaking into town in the mornings for the last week or so, tempting us all with a hopeful taste of the lower temperatures we didn't get to fully embrace last year.
And with those brisk, stirring breezes come visions of the fall foods that simply aren't as enjoyable during Houston's almost eternal summer: pecan pies, pumpkin pies, Starbucks lattes flavored like pumpkin pies (shut up), bœuf bourguignon, bun bo hue, pozole, coq au vin, roasted butternut squash, roasted acorn squash, roasted apples (try them; trust me) and so much more.
Besides the bounty of cool weather produce that will start showing up in farmers markets -- spinach, kale, beets, cauliflower, broccoli, pumpkin and more -- these are the dishes we're looking forward to eating the most once the temperatures finally drop.
5. Pot roast
Like former president Ford, I love a good pot roast. I love coming home to one even more -- the scent of slowly braised beef, roasted potatoes and sweet carrots hitting you with a welcoming thickness the moment you open the front door -- so thank God for Crock Pots. If you want to cook your pot roast in the oven the old-fashioned way, all the better in cold weather too: There's nothing quite so icky as heating up the house with a full-tilt oven in the summer.
Best place to enjoy: The Raven Grill
4. Chicken pot pie
Tender chicken, sweet carrots and peas, creamy gravy, flaky pie crust: Chicken pot pie is warm, filling and comforting in the same way that visiting your grandparents' house and finding not a single dish or rug to be out of place after 30 years is. It's not a mature or elegant dish, but it's hearty and delicious -- and that's all that matters.
Best place to enjoy: Daily Grill
3. Oyster stew
Oysters are at their best during cold weather and the cooler it gets in the Gulf this year, the plumper and sweeter our Texas oysters will be. (The other two coasts can keep their tiny, ugly, super briny runts, please-and-thank-you.) And while oysters on the half shell are tasty in any kind of weather, cream-thickened oyster stew is far too heavy for a summer meal. It's even better if you throw a little smoky tasso into the mix -- the meatiness of the pork cuts through the heavy broth and the salinity further perks up those buttery oysters.
Best place to enjoy: Danton's
2. Hot pot
One of the greatest ways to enjoy a communal meal with friends is to gather around a butane-fueled hot pot and spend the evening cooking your own dinner together. Do you want your hot pot to be all spicy? All mild? Half and half? With chicken? Beef? Seafood? A combination of all three? You can completely customize your meal to nearly everyone's liking, although spicy hotpot with beef is my personal fall favorite. At the end, don't forget to crack that egg into the remaining broth to create one last bowl of eggdrop soup.
Best place to enjoy: Thai Spice Express
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One of the highlights of my year is attending the Christmas gumbo party at the childhood home of one of my best friends. Her deeply Cajun mother starts making the stock for the gumbo each year right around this time -- last year, it was a lobster stock -- and ends up with enough gumbo to fill an oil drum. A big pot of gumbo is just as good as hot pot for bringing people together, and there's nothing like enjoying good, warm food with good, warm company.