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.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sugar Mama's Has Pies.

OK. Sugar Mama's Bakeshop has my favorite cupcakes in Austin. Or favorite anywhere, really. My favorite Sugar Mama's cupcake is The Odd Couple, which is chocolate cake with salted caramel cream cheese frosting. So chocolatey and good.

All the goodies come in these little brown paper bags or unbleached paper boxes.

They've been open a year now, and had a first birthday celebration last Saturday, where they debuted their new pies in a pie-eating contest (that, sadly, I missed).

I finally got to try the pie yesterday. I went with the Banana Cream, with crunchy, buttery graham cracker crust, fresh whipped cream and a caramelized banana topping.

Don't you want to steal a swipe of that whipped cream?

And it was good. Really, really good. I'm more of a cake person than a pie person, but now I want to try all the pies. Coconut cream will probably be next.

There was a good crowd at the birthday party last weekend, happily partaking in free food by the Casserole Queens and drinks by Tito's, along with birthday cake and Nada Moo ice cream.

The Casserole Queens and Tito's reps serve food and drinks

By the time I got there, the cupcake case had been decimated, but they still had a few of another of my favorites, the Hula - coconut cake with coconut cream cheese frosting with toasted coconut topping.

Nearly empty cupcake case