Prominent Houston Figures Reveal What They’re Cooking for Dinner During These Social Distancing Times

Inspiration for At-Home Meals

BY // 04.03.20

While w’re all trying to support our restaurants by ordering takeout during the pandemic, there are some nights when we feel compelled to stay home and cook dinner. Some are cooking at home more than others. And some are running out of ideas about what to prepare.

For inspiration on the subject, PaperCity has rounded up a handful of influencers and asked them the question: “What’s for dinner?”

Anyone who follows Debbie Festari, founder of the Una Notte in Italia fundraiser, on Instagram has seen the mouthwatering dishes that Rudy Festari, her husband and owner of Festari for Men, has been preparing of late. With his shop closed except by appointment, he’s spending more time at home — and more time in the kitchen.

“Rudy’s been making some of his traditional but easy Italian dishes and starts with a big pot of sauce that can be frozen and used for several dishes through the week,” she emailed. “He’s made chicken cacciatore, Bolognese, Italian pork chops and peppers, lasagna, and cutlets, to name a few!

“I’ve been doing more traditional easy cooking like casseroles, etc. The easy and favorite King Ranch chicken, baked sour cream chicken breasts, easy pot roast, Mexican casserole, carne guisada, and a big pot of charro beans that lasts through the week.”

George Lancaster, senior vice president of corporate communications for Hines and Stages board chair, allows that his freezer is filled with dinner items, and occasionally he has cooked at home — things like sloppy joes and turkey hot dogs roasted on the grill. But cooking is not, he admits, his forte.

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“For now, I am mostly trying to support restaurants that are still open for lunch and dinner,” he says. “The most guilty of pleasure is Armandos parking-lot pickup, complete with to-go frozen margaritas. I use the Favor app mostly, and they have contact-less drop-off. Some faves: Grace’s, Riel, Boheme (best pepperoni pizza globally!), and Barnaby’s (great club sandwiches for lunch).”

While most of us are downing martinis or wine at a cocktail hour that begins earlier and earlier each day, Lancaster perks up his afternoons with unsweetened black iced tea with a large splash of Vitaminwater Zero Lemonade. It’s a refreshing no-sugar Arnold Palmer, which he says gets him through his afternoons that are filled with Skype and Zoom meetings, phone calls, and emails.

Fady Armanious
Fady Armanious puts the finishing touches on his lamb chops dressed with a pistachio, orange, lemon and herb mixture. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)

Talented home chef and Tootsies fashion director Fady Armanious reports that he and Bill Baldwin are rotating through rounds of salads, steak, chicken, fish, and pastas. Check him out on Instagram, and he walks you through some of his preparations.

A few of his suggestions: grilled cod or sea bass with veggies, preceded by an arugula salad with toasted pine nuts; a combo of ground beef and ground lamb with pasta, fresh tomatoes and marinara sauce; and rotisserie chicken baked surrounded by fresh vegetables.

“Then we do takeouts in between to help our local restaurants and to get a break from cooking,” Armanious says.

Partners Lauren Taft and Libby Cagle have been cooking up a storm since social-distancing orders changed the restaurant scene.

“Lauren and I are a great team in the kitchen!,” Cagle says. “I make a mess, and she cleans it up! Ha, but really, Lolo is in charge of drinks, apps, and tunes, while I make most of our meals.”

They have their menu planned out for the week. What they’ve been dining on the last several days: turkey burgers, aioli, and okra fries; Niçoise salad inspired by designer Randy Powers and the Mozza cookbook by Nancy Silverton; Alison Roman‘s anchovy butter roasted chicken and greens with Greek feta dressing; the Defined Dish’s Thai basil beef with cauliflower rice and bok choy with dumplings from Cafe Ginger.

For cocktail inspiration, the duo recommends a mix comprised of ¼ equal parts freshly squeezed lime and orange juice and ½ blanco tequila (“We like Casamigos”). Add ice and top with Topo Chico.

Between managing her staff (all working from home) and filling out the myriad SBA, CARES, and PPP forms, public relations whiz Karen Henry, surprisingly, is all over the home-cooking thing.

New recipes she and her family are enjoying: crispy chicken thighs with shallots and nectarines with a tomato, red onion, arugula, and blue cheese salad; red wine, beet, and cocoa-braised beef short ribs with garlic mashed potatoes and poached cherry tomatoes; mushroom lasagna with homemade pasta sheets, a radicchio salad, and Thai chicken khao soi soup.

When ordering out, they turn to Mala Sichuan and Vieng Thai.

“A few evenings a week, we pretend we are on the Blanco River, sitting on our patio overlooking the bayou concocting new cocktails,” she emails. “My new favorite is a modified margarita: fresh lemon, several slices of jalapeño, a teaspoon of honey, and tequila in a shaker poured into a martini glass.”

Sophie and Elisabet Brandsberg-Dahl
Elisabet and Sophie Brandsberg-Dahl making ice cream in between home studying during social distancing.

CTO for Energy at Microsoft Azur  Sverre Brandsberg-Dahl and Carrie Brandsberg-Dahl are viscerally grooving on dishes from his native Norway. During vacations in normal times, the family visits his family’s summer cabin in the fjords, where the pizza oven works full-time, baking pizzas, breads ,and focaccia. At home in Houston, they use a pizza stone in the oven.

The social-distancing pizzas include: pesto (they grow their own) topped with grilled chicken, potatoes, red onion, fresh mozzarella, sea salt, and rosemary from their herb garden; potato, rosemary, olive, and sea salt; and red onions, black olives, red bell pepper, and fresh mozzarella with homemade tomato sauce. For their pizza dough, they use the Overnight Straight Pizza Dough recipe from the Flour Water Salt cookbook.

During their time at home, the Brandsberg-Dahl daughters, Sophie and Elisabet, have been keeping the ice cream maker they received for Christmas churning. With the leftover egg whites, they’re making macarons and meringue.

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