Thursday, December 10, 2009

More Eat Local Week Goodness

Eat Local Week has been a great time so far - there are so many great events, and I'm really impressed with the number of people who have been turning out.

Last night, I went to City Hall for the Better Bites of Austin Edible Local Holiday Gift Fair. Better Bites of Austin, a trade organization that links small natural food businesses in Austin, had representatives from many of its vendors.

The highlight of the night for me was the Mary Louise Butters Brownies booth. I've been a fan of the sweets since moving to Austin, and I love giving them to out-of-town guests and sending them out in gift packages to my family and friends in Chicago.

Mary Louise Butters and her brownies

Last night, I tried the Fara, a swirled blend of a brownie and blondie, and I've got to say, that even with half of it being a non-brownie, it quickly became my favorite. I think I even took a couple steps back after tasting it - it was rich with chocolate and molasses, moist and chewy. I bought one for myself, and a couple more for gifts (we'll see if they make it into the packages).

The brownies (the Fara variety are in the tan and black packaging)

Zhi Tea also had samples of their Sweet Desert Delight, a caffeine-free sweet tea. We bought a few teas for gifts, as well.

Tasty teas

Also at the fair were:
  • Rio's Brazilian, where we got a package of Pao de Quiejo with basil.
  • Jake's Granola, where I tried a cranberry-pistachio biscotti and the man bought a package of the gingerbread biscotti.
  • Bona Dea Bread, who had a deliciously rich challah, and whose chocolate challah rolls are high on my list of things to try
  • World Wise Grains, who gave out little cookies made with Arzu, their multi-grain blend
  • SASS Fresh Dressings, with plenty of dressings to try with fresh bread
  • Pie Fixes Everything, who had fruit pies and quiches (and who delivers them!)
And a whole lot more that I didn't get to try. I hope they do this again during Eat Local Week next winter. It's just in time for the holidays.

Tonight? I'm heading to the Wally Workman Gallery for their Fine Art Food Night to taste bites from Les Dames d'Escoffier, Hosteria Verde, Portabla and Fete Accompli while checking out Feast, the exhibit featuring images of food and cooking.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Eat Local Week

Edible Austin's Eat Local Week kicked off last weekend with some great events that I was lucky enough to attend. (In the interest of disclosure, I work with Edible Austin on their editorial team.)

All of this week's events benefit Urban Roots, an amazing program that teaches local teens sustainable farming, and all it encompasses including planting and harvesting, selling, marketing and how local food benefits the community. Urban Roots donates a portion of their harvest to local hunger relief efforts and is working hard to bring fresh, local food to East Austin. So go out and give them some money!

Friday night, Book People had a multi-media night, hosting authors Pamela Walker, author of Growing Good Things to Eat in Texas, and Chef Alain Braux of People's Pharmacy, along with Ana-Sofia Joanes, director and producer of the documentary FRESH. Food tastings were provided by Thai Fresh and FoodSmarty, and drinks by St. Arnold Brewing.

Saturday, I attended the Tea Festival at Zhi Tea and got to try lots of delicious teas from several local tea purveyors, and attended a screening of FRESH at the Paramount downtown.

Sunday, I checked out the Drink Local Coffee Festival and Drink Local Night.

There are still lots of great events going on all week, from the Julie & Julia Feast tonight at the Alamo Drafthouse, the Gulf Coast Sampler tomorrow at AMOA, a Meet Your Local Brewers Happy Hour at the Whip In, and lots more. I'm going to try to pack as much in as I can.

Check out Edible Austin's Eat Local Week events page to find an event (or events!) that appeal to you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Flip Happy

It took me two years to get to Flip Happy. I've lived near the crepe trailer for that long before I finally stopped by one Saturday morning.

The long line snaked back in between the parked cars, and I considered going back another time, but I decided to stick it out.

Decisions, decisions

The friendly Flip Happy cash register informs you of what's to come.

I had the Tarragon Mushroom crepe, stuffed with fresh mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes and chevre. The slightly eggy crepe was tender and held up well against the fillings. I was really amused that almost everyone eating crepes on the picnic benches picked them up and ate them like burritos. Thinking when in Rome (h/t Ron Burgundy), I followed suit.

Tarragon Mushroom and Spinach Feta crepes

The man had the Spinach and Feta crepe, and reported it to be delicious.

Probably against our better judgment after eating filling savory crepes, we decided to split a dessert crepe. The Lemon Curd crepe was sweet and tart and dressed with freshly cooked blueberries. Very tasty.

Lemony blueberry-y goodness

I've since been back 3 or so more times. They keep funny hours, so check their website before heading over.

Flip Happy Crepes
400 Josephine Street
Austin, TX 78704

Monday, November 16, 2009


I love a food trailer. Give me good food, served on the street, and I'm happy. I'd heard rumblings about Sushi-A-Go-Go, a sushi trailer in the parking lot of a gas station. Looking at their online menu, I saw there were a lot of veggie choices. Sounded promising.

After a little wait, I had 4 rolls and an order of inari to share with the man. We got (clockwise from top left) a natto roll, a kanpyo roll, 3 pieces of inari, an avocado mango roll, and a vegetable roll.

Sushi, with extra packaging

The food was all OK. Not bad, but nothing special. The inari, which is always a favorite, had a tasty skin, but the rice was a less sticky than I'm used to in sushi. It didn't hold together well. I was excited to have the kanpyo, though, as it seems to be rare in Austin. The sweet gourd shavings are slightly crunchy, a little sweet, and totally delicious.

The veggie roll was beautiful in its bright green soy paper, but pretty mildly flavored. The mango avocado roll had nice avocado, but the mango was less than ripe.

The natto, well . . . it was my first time having natto. We'll just leave it at that.

One major turn-off was all the packaging. All the soy sauce, pickled ginger, even the wasabi, was individually packaged in little packets. And all the packets were packed into a little 2-ounce sauce cup. Kind of a waste of materials for condiments of lesser quality than you'd get smooshed up against your sushi at other places.

Would I go back? Maybe, but they've moved since I was there last, and they're awfully close to Banzai. While not fancy food, Banzai has some excellent veggie sushi, for similar prices to Sushi-A-Go-Go, and the food is a little better.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Green Corn Project Fundraiser

Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending the Green Corn Project fundraiser at Boggy Creek Farm.

The man's brother was in town, and we thought it was a great way to let him try some of Austin's food and check out the urban farm. We arrived just after the event began, right around noon. The crowd was trickling in, and it filled out over the course of the afternoon.

At $35, it was a bargain. Some of Austin's best restaurants were represented, bringing samples of their delicious food for tasting, while a silent auction raised even more money.

For me, some of the standouts were:

Parkside's pumpkin soup with coriander. So good, I went back for seconds.

Aquarelle's corainder-carrot salad: really spicy, crunchy and sweet.

Olivia's spicy deviled egg and spicy maple sweet potato. The sweet potato was just OK, kind of mildly flavored, but the egg was perfect - spicy, creamy and perfectly tender.

After gorging ourselves on more veggies and chocolate, and buying some sweet potatoes and green beans at the farm stand, we headed to the back of the house to catch a cooking demo.

Jam of Thai Fresh showed us how to make a Thai egg custard inside a kabocha squash. I've been buying kabocha the last few weeks, and just roasting them, so I'm glad to have an interesting new recipe to try. (If you want to try it, check out the recipe on Jam's blog.)

Jam, scooping a squash

The custard was delicious - delicately sweet and flavored with pandan leaves. The squash was tender, but not mushy. It was light, and really nice after all the food we'd just shoved into our faces.

Thai egg custard made with coconut milk, cooked into a kabocha.

A visit to Boggy Creek wouldn't be complete without visiting the chickens, so we popped over to check them out. They have the most gorgeous chickens, with lots of variety in size, color and seriousness of strut. Check out this character:

A beauty of a chicken

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New Trailer: Austin Gourmet Pudding

I've noticed that at the lot on South Congress and Monroe has been adding more food trailers recently. It seems to be a little different every couple of weeks. Over the weekend, I took a walk over there to see what was going on.

There, I found three-week-old Austin Gourmet Pudding. I've seen plenty of food trailers, but never one that sells only pudding. Run by Randy James, the trailer serves homemade puddings with flavors like chocolate, tapioca and pumpkin, and toppings like crushed cookies and candies in edible waffle bowls.

The bright, yellow truck, filled with creamy, puddingy goodness

Not being particularly hungry, and after Randy generously let us sample a few puddings before deciding, my dining partner and I settled on a half-and-half mix of butterscotch and Pop's banana topped with graham crackers.

Made with whole milk, the puddings were really thick and rich. Both were really good, but the banana was excellent. Surprising, because butterscotch is usually my favorite.

While eating the pudding, I chatted with Randy, who, as it turns out is from Central Illinois. I'm from Chicago, and went to school in Central Illinois, pretty close to the town he's from. Lucky guy that he is, he told me his mom sends him some Illinois super-sweet corn every year when it's in season. (Sure, the corn here is tasty, but it's just not the same!) I've got to see if I can make a similar arrangement.

Quick aside: the corn I got at the farmers market in Central Illinois, and even the stuff I've gotten recently at the Green City Market is so sweet and juicy that it doesn't really need to be cooked. During corn season, I got a few to cook, along with one for the road that I ripped open and ate raw on my way home.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Project: Stuffed Poblanos

I've always loved stuffed peppers. My grandma's version used green bells stuffed with rice and rich tomato sauce. They were pretty tasty, but I prefer a spicier Latin-inspired poblano relleno to a standard stuffed bell pepper.

I've made chiles rellenos before, stuffing charred and peeled poblanos with cheese, then breading and frying them. They're always delicious, but after having an un-fried version at La Fonda in San Antonio, I wanted to try making them myself.

I found some gorgeous poblanos, which I charred, peeled and seeded.

Charring poblano and naked peppers

I used one to make a poblano cream sauce, and stuffed the remaining two with a mixture of quinoa, raisins, pine nuts and a veggie mixture of sweet potato, corn onion and purple cabbage.

Veggie filling with quinoa steaming away in the background

I put a little bit of the poblano cream into the bottom of a pan, and placed the stuffed poblanos in it, then covered them with more sauce and some nutty-sharp Cheddar cheese and baked them until everything was hot and melty.

Stuffed poblanos, before and after baking

We ate them with quinoa with raisins and pine nuts and black beans.

I am really happy with how well the poblanos turned out. The texture was fantastic, still a little firm, and I think I prefer this non-fried version to the battered one. It's much lighter, and the flavor of the poblano comes through a lot better. Plus, it's not fried, so you get to save a little on fat and calories.

I think that, with fall coming, I'm going to make these again and experiment with fillings. Maybe butternut squash and black beans?

The poblano cream sauce was delicious, and really easy, too. It's kind of based on a Rick Bayless recipe from Mexican Kitchen, but it's a lot lighter. I had a funny kitchen moment when making it, though. I used all low-fat milk and no cream, but when I blended the milk in the food processor, it aerated and puffed up like whipped cream! It deflated once I added it to the hot pan, but just over cup of milk filled the bowl of the food processor.

Poblano Cream
1 large poblano, charred, peeled and seeded
1 1/4 cup milk
1 Tablespoon flour
1 Tablespoon butter
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (you could use crema, but this is what I had)
salt and pepper

Blend the poblano and 1 cup of milk in a blender or food processor.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add flour. Cook over medium heat until it begins to take on a little color. Whisk in the milk mixture, along with the remaining milk. Bring to a simmer. Add Greek yogurt, salt and pepper. Heat through.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tacodeli Love

I've been eating Tacodeli for almost as long as I've lived in Austin, having first gotten them from their table at the downtown Austin Farmers' Market, shortly after moving here.

The first taco I got was a bean, potato and cheese breakfast taco, and what I remember most about it was the salsa dona that topped it. I'd never had a salsa like it—creamy, pale green and spicy with jalapeno and garlic—and kept getting my breakfast taco, Saturday after Saturday, to top it with lots of spicy dona.

Now that I go to Sunset Valley more often than the downtown market, I have been going to the Tacodeli shop on Spyglass. And I like their lunch tacos even more than the breakfast ones.

But there are two tacos that I like so much, it's hard for me to try anything else. Nearly every time I eat there (or more often, get takeout for home), I get the Heather and the Frontera Fundido Portabella.

The Frontera Fundido Portabella and the Heather, with a side of glorious dona

The Heather has a lot going on - black beans, lettuce, guacamole and tomatoes, but the taco is really all about the cheese—a big hunk of queso fresco, grilled until it's brown. It's delicious and nutty. The mushroom taco is packed—seriously packed—full of roasted portabella slices, grilled onions and poblano strips. They're even better with a good slathering of that dona sauce. I get serious cravings for these on the weekend, even once heading straight from the airport to Tacodeli after returning home from a taco-free trip to Upstate New York.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Austin Restaurant Week: Green Pastures

Last night, I finally got out to try a new restaurant during Austin Restaurant Week. I went to Green Pastures, which I live really close to, but had never visited.

The property is gorgeous, with a huge lawn and lots of oak trees. Peacocks, including a few starkly white albinos roam freely on the lawn.

Mama and baby peacock

The large house itself is beautiful. I love old houses, and this one has a lot of charm. After arriving, the man and I were led to our table, through the large space where Sunday brunch is set up, to a sunroom overlooking the oaks.

The walk up to the entrance

The menu had a meat, seafood and vegetarian option for the appetizers and entrees. That's thoughtful, and much appreciated. And at $25, the meal was a good value.

Austin Restaurant Week Menu

My appetizer was amazing. Brie: A Soup, A Sandwich, A Midnight Snack was a trio of a toasted brie sandwich with caramelized onions and balsamic reduction, a rich and super-mushroomy brie and mushroom soup, and a small waffle with brie, banana and fresh whipped cream. If they had this on the everyday menu as an entree, I would be there all the time. I loved every bite.

The sandwich was sweet and savory, crunchy and creamy. The soup was one of the best mushroom soups I've tasted, and the waffle was a nice treat. The banana and brie were really good together.

Brie appetizer: A little larger, and it would be a fantastic entree.

For an appetizer, it was a little large, and I could barely make a dent in my entree, garbanzo dumplings with exotic mushrooms. I didn't mind, though. Though a great idea, the dumplings were kind of heavy and had a little bit of a gritty texture. The mushrooms were wonderful, and the sun-dried tomatoes cut through the richness of the cream and chevre sauce wonderfully.

Dessert was bread pudding. It was delicious, but I was kidding myself if I thought I could eat it. I did manage to put away almost half of it, against my better judgment.

Overall, it was a great experience. I look forward to returning to Green Pastures (though I'll be calling to make sure the mushroom soup is on the menu - it's one of their rotating soup specials), and may try their Sunday brunch the next time I have family in town. It's close enough that we can roll each other home, if need be.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Kolaches. Let Me Show You Them.

I hadn't heard of kolaches before moving to Austin three years ago. In Chicago, Polish kolackys (pronounced ko-lach-keys) were popular, but are really more of a cookie than a bread.

I've really liked the kolaches I've gotten at Lone Star Kolaches on Lamar, but I wanted to try them on my own.

I searched the webs for a recipe that looked tasty, and settled on one from the Homesick Texan blog, which I modified to suit my needs.

After gathering all my ingredients, I settled into the kitchen and started my dough.

First, I fed the yeast with sugar, flour and milk. After a little rest, the dough had puffed up.

Pre-puffed and puffed dough starter

I mixed in butter and eggs, and then the flour. A lot of flour. I'm not even kidding; I used a lot of flour. The recipe called for 2 cups, but I ended up using closer to 3 after I turned out the 2-cup dough and it oozed over the side of the board I was working on. It had been raining for several days, so I think I can attribute a lot of that to the moisture in the air, and probably my flour. But I was a little surprised at just how I much I had to use.

Pre-puffed and puffed completed dough

After another rise, I started filling the dough. Going kind of traditional, I used a veggie sausage and pickled jalapenos in one type and extra-sharp Cheddar and jalapenos in another. I filled the leftover dough with cherry preserves.

After buttering and another rise, I baked them. I had to go a bit longer than the recipe suggested, baking for 20 minutes instead of 12-15.

Buttered and risen kolaches

Seeing my nicely browned kolaches come out of the oven, hot and steamy, was really satisfying. I don't bake a lot, but I really want to do it more. I think I found yeast breads kind of intimidating, but really, they're easy. There's just a lot of waiting.

1 packet dry active yeast
1 cup warm milk
1/4 cup sugar
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup melted butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt

Mix the yeast, milk, sugar and 1 cup of the flour in a large bowl. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled in size (about an hour).

Add the eggs, butter and salt. Mix until well-combined, and add the flour, 1/2 cup at a time. The dough should be moist and supple, but not oozey. If you've got a good dough (it's sticking to itself more than to your hands), you can stop before the reaching the 3 3/4 cup mark.

Knead on a floured board for about 10 minutes. Put in a large, buttered bowl and cover. Let rise for an hour.

Butter a baking sheet. Punch down the dough, and begin filling: Pull off small balls of dough and pat or roll out into 3-inch discs. If filling with sausage or cheese, place in the middle of the disc and fold the sides over. Place seam-side down on a baking sheet. If using fruit preserves, use your finger to make a little well in the center of the disc. Place on the baking sheet and fill the well with about a teaspoon of fruit preserves.

Brush the tops of the kolaches with melted butter. Cover and let rise for 1/2 hour. Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown all over.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

San Antonio Weekend

Part of my Labor Day weekend was spent in San Antonio. It's a beautiful town, really, but kind of spread out. I can't imagine trying to manage it on the bus.

The man and I went down to see Esteban Jordan, a Tejano-style accordion player who we heard may be retiring. The show was good—really loud, but good. The crowd kept growing as the night went on, and I think that, either they absorbed some of the noise, or my ears just gave up because it seemed to get less loud over time.

Before the show, we checked out La Fonda on the recommendation of Kelly, one of the owners of The Inn at Craig Place, where we stayed in. It was just around the corner.

The Inn

The man totally won dinner. I got enchiladas rojas de queso, which were just OK. The sauce was bland, there was a very thin layer of cheese inside, and the tortillas had a dry, crumbly texture. His roasted poblano relleno was fantastic. Unlike most chiles rellenos, this one wasn't fried—it was roasted and stuffed with queso fresco and covered with a tasty poblano cream. Somehow my fork kept finding its way onto his plate, stealing bits of chile and sauce.

OK enchiladas excellent chile relleno (with an OK enchilada on the side)

We got the special dessert, crepas de higas, crepes with fresh figs, served with cajeta, cinnamon ice cream and fresh whipped cream. After ordering dessert, a huge downpour of rain forced everyone on the patio inside, which may be why it took a little extra long to get to us. The ice cream had melted, but was delicious as a sauce for the tender crepes.

Crepes with cajeta, figs and melted ice cream

When we returned to the Inn, we had fresh, warm cookies waiting for us. The next morning, we woke to an amazing breakfast. First came hot coffee and warm scones with butter and jam.

Coffee and scones. Aren't the little buttered-toast spreaders adorable?

A little while later, Gregg brought up a tray holding a breakfast feast—fresh fruit, eggs Wellington and a fresh strawberry tart. I normally don't have a big appetite in the morning, but I made sure I had some of everything.

The eggs were fantastic—perfectly cooked to a velvety custard-like texture and covered with a fresh Mornay sauce and sandwiched between two tender pieces of puff pastry. The sauce, spicy from mustard and nutty with Swiss cheese, was delicious.

Fluffy and tender eggs Wellington

The fruit cup, with melon, strawberries and grapes was refreshing and light with the rich eggs. And the strawberry tart was wonderful—how can fresh berries on top of sweet pastry cream and tender crust not be?

A three-course breakfast in our room

After perusing the shops at La Villita and spending some time on the Riverwalk, we headed to the Liberty Bar for a snack before heading back to Austin.

The bar is in a charmingly slanty building. The floors and walls, along with the large bars, are all old wood. For over 100 years old, I'd say the place is in pretty good shape.

The slanty wood floor runs through the bar

Along with a hibiscus-mint tea and grape juice mix, we got the pickled serranos with carrots and ginger and the goat cheese with chile morita and piloncillo.

Oh my god, was that goat cheese good. The cheese itself was infused with the smoky flavor of the chile, and the sauce, sweet, savory and spicy, was perfect. Not a drop was left.

Spicy-sweet goodness

And by the time we left, there was a line almost out the door. We'd timed it perfectly.

Even a few days later, I'm still thinking about that cheese dish. I want it again, and I'm determined to make it soon.