Friday, August 28, 2015

Bits and Bites -- Austin Food News

Openings/What's New
-- My Fit Foods has launched a series of salad bowls: Southwest Chicken, Asian Beef, Mediterranean Shrimp and Vegetarian with quinoa.

-- Goodall's Kitchen at the Hotel Ella has completed a remodel, featuring classic American bistro fare and handcrafted cocktails. They are also offering a tailgate buffet for UT football home games, $50/person.

-- Shake Shack is now open at the Domain.

-- Royal Jelly is coming to 704 St. John's (at Lamar); no menu info as of yet.

-- Toss Pizza and Pub is coming to 2901 S. First (just south of Torchy's at El Paso St.).

-- New home meal delivery service in Austin, Nimble Foods, which brings fresh cooked foods to your doorstep.

-- New corporate meal delivery service, Foodee, which partners with local restaurants.

-- South Congress Hotel prepares to open September 8th, and along with it, their all-day cafe, Cafe No Se will be open from 7 am - 2 am daily. Coming soon to the space will be Paul Qui's sushi bar Otoko; Central Standard, an American bar and grill; and Manana a coffee shop and cold-pressed juice bar.

-- Prizer Gallery's Artist as Farmer exhibit runs August 29 - September 13th, 2023 E. Cesar Chavez.

-- Tailor Made Treats (vegan chocolates) will have a pop up sale at Metier, Saturday, August 29th from 11 am - 2 pm.

-- Shawn Cirkel's latest project Bullfight is getting close to opening at 4807 Airport; they're hosting a preview benefit for the Sustainable Food Center August 29th, $75/person (no menu details as of yet).

-- Contigo Catering and Austin Beerworks are hosting a dinner featuring roast goat, August 29th, $55/person at the brewery.

-- Texas French Bread is hosting a 4 course dinner with pate, grilled shrimp, quail and apple tart, Sunday, August 30th, $50/person.

-- Counter 3.Five.VII and Qui are teaming up on a 15-course dinner, Monday, August 31st, $180/person $300 with wine pairings.

-- HAAM Benefit Day (Health Alliance for Austin Musicians) is September 1st, and a number of participating restaurants will feature live music and donate at least 5% of profits that day to HAAM. ABGB, Amy's, Whole Foods and lots more.

-- The soon to open Geraldine's at the Hotel Van Zandt has hired Jennifer Keyser as Chief of Bar Operations; she will host a bar takeover at Midnight Cowboy September 1st to showcase her drinks.

-- Metier will host a pop-up bakery with Odd Duck's pastry chef Susana Querejazu, Saturday, September 5th beginning at 10 am until sold out; cash and credit cards accepted. And Metier will be having a sale!

-- Knife sharpening demo with a master of Japanese knives, at Metier, Thursday, September 10th at 11 am.

-- The Wine and Food Foundation of Texas will hold their annual Tour de Vin fundraiser at Fair Market on September 17th; Andrew Wiseheart of Contigo serves as honorary chair and will include chefs from Bribery Bakery, Kin and Comfort, Juliet and VOX Table. Tickets $70/person.

-- Patron Tequila tasting at the Coppertank Event Space, Friday, September 18th, 8 pm.

-- Edible Austin's annual Chef Auction will be October 8th at Allan House, $85/person. From the press release: Benefiting Sustainable Food Center and Urban Roots, the live auction is your chance to bid on exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime dinner packages prepared by Austin’s hottest chefs while supporting two nonprofits who truly “walk the walk” of strengthening our local food system. Participating chefs are from Contigo, Eden East, Franklin BBQ, Justine's, Lenoir, Ramen Tatsuya, Travassa, Uchi/ko and Wu Chow.

-- Central Market will debut a new event, Garlic Fest at all locations, September 16-29, with all kinds of garlic creations, demos, and cooking classes.

-- Thundercloud Subs is holding an art contest to design the upcoming poster/t-shirt for the 25th anniversary Turkey Trot 5k to be held on Thanksgiving Day; submissions due September 15th.

--Austin Alfresco, an exclusive food and wine overnight glamping retreat and festival with some of the areas top chefs, will be at Carson Creek Ranch, October 16-18, and they have currently dropped their price to $895/person.

-- The Carnivore's Ball returns Thursday, October 22nd, $72; as it sounds, probably not suited for vegetarians! Three different meat courses plus dessert, paired with St. Arnold's beers.

-- Tickets are on sale for the Austin Fermentation Festival, October 25th at Barr Mansion, $20+ /person. 

Blogger Widgets

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Johnson's Backyard Garden: Cooking Up Dinner

Johnson's Backyard Garden is one of the largest Austin-area farms and providers of CSA boxes in Austin. What's a CSA? Community Supported Agriculture -- you can read more about it on Johnson's page -- but basically, you pay into a local farm for a share of the produce that comes out of it. The farm will pack a variety of their seasonal items literally into a box and subscribers pick them up from a pre-established location or they are delivered right to your doorstep. Prices start at $21 and go up from there; you determine the size of the box and the frequency in which you want it. They were kind enough to offer me a box free of charge. All opinions are my own, and I was not financially compensated.

What comes in the box? Well, of course that will depend on the season! Johnson's has stuff growing 365 days out of the year, so even if you were only going to get a box occasionally from them, there would be a ton of variety! Have you ever been to one of the Austin-area farmers markets and seen a HUGE booth with just about everything that could be in season? Yeah, that's JBG, and they're at 20 different markets now! Anyway, if you're a CSA box subscriber, you can always go to their website for a description of what's in that current week's box.
Johnson's Backyard Garden: Cooking Up Dinner
I left a cooler on my front porch, so this was my first glimpse of my produce treasures!
I was excited because when I looked online, I saw that carrots and beets were part of the current haul, and I wanted to make this awesome vegan, almost-raw beet slaw that I've made before (and blogged about it! here's the recipe). But when I got the box, no beets or carrots! So you have to remain flexible when working with a CSA. Here's what I did received (with the official produce inspector!):
Johnson's Backyard Garden: Cooking Up Dinner
Inspector Charlie gives his approval
From left to right, we had sweet potato greens, poblano peppers, cantaloupes, red potatoes, yellow squash, basil, cucumbers, eggplant, malabar spinach (in the bag) and okra.  For a small household, it's a lot of produce! I have to admit, unless it's fried, I am not a big fan of okra, so I gave it to a friend who loves it. And I still haven't used the malabar spinach; it seems very hardy, and in fact isn't even a spinach! But here's a look at what I've been cooking for dinner.

The sweet potato greens were a new one for me. I looked online for some recipe ideas, and via Prevention magazine, actually found a recipe from local blogger MJ and the Hungryman! So I made my version of their sauteed sweet potato greens: heated a equal combination of grapeseed oil (neutral flavor) with sesame oil (great flavor, but low smoke point) in a skillet, and added some fresh grated ginger and a little garlic to taste. I added the greens, and just cooked them for about 2 - 3 minutes so they wilted down. I made a complete meal with some miso-glazed wild salmon and brown rice. I really liked the greens (I was surprised!); they were a lot like cooked spinach with a little bit more of a bite to them, kind of like arugula. I had some leftover and took them to work for lunch the next day; unfortunately, they were much more bitter the second day.
Johnson's Backyard Garden: Cooking Up Dinner
Asian-inspired sweet potato greens
With the poblano peppers and basil, I made pesto.  I lightly charred the peppers over the open flame of my gas stove, sealed them in a plastic bag to steam, and then peeled the skins off. I cut the stems off, de-seeded them and put them in a food processor with the basil and pumpkin seeds, some Parmesan cheese, and then drizzled olive oil in. It's got a nice little kick! Pesto is one of those versatile things that can be made a million ways depending on your preferences; it doesn't have to just be basil. While I do like pesto pasta, as seen below with sauteed yellow squash from the box, I LOVE using pesto as a base on a pizza instead of red sauce.  Smear it over your crust, add a little prosciutto, some good fresh mozzarella, and maybe a touch of olive oil on top. Bake it around 425 degrees for about 10 minutes, so the cheese is getting bubbly and a bit golden. Great for an appetizer or main dish. Pesto also freezes fairly well. You can freeze in small batches (ice cube trays or just plop by the spoonful or quarter-cupful on plastic wrap, wrap well, and put in a zippered bag) so you can then pull out just what you need.
Johnson's Backyard Garden: Cooking Up Dinner
Poblano basil pumpkin seed pesto

Johnson's Backyard Garden: Cooking Up Dinner
Sauteed yellow squash with pesto pasta
I love different types of Asian food, and a Thai curry stir fry is one of my go-to dishes. You can vary the protein: tofu cubes, pork or beef strips are my favorites, and of course lots of different vegetables. I had lots of eggplant and yellow squash from Johnson's, and I added red bell pepper and baby bok choy. In a wok or large skillet, I heated some grapeseed oil and a splash of sesame oil; for this one, I used beef that was already cut into stir fry strips by the butchers at Central Market (it's very handy). I cooked them for about 2 minutes to take the pink off the outside, and removed them from the pan; they'll get cooked all the way through later. In the same wok, I added a touch more oil, and added my cut up vegetables, saving the bok choy for last because it takes less time to cook. Push the vegetables up the sides of the wok; add about a quarter cup of well-shaken canned coconut milk and then about 2 tablespoons (or more if you like it spicy!) of the panang curry paste. Work the paste into the coconut milk to dissolve, gradually adding more coconut milk, and finally adding the entire 15 oz. can.  Incorporate the veggies into the sauce, and let simmer about 5 minutes, adding the protein back for the last two minutes (can get tough if over-cooked). Check for seasoning; I usually add a couple tablespoons of fish sauce, lime juice, and brown sugar (or palm sugar if you have it) to round out the flavors, and my Thai friend has complimented my panang rendition! Serve over rice of choice (white jasmine would be the traditional Thai choice, but basmati, Texmati or even brown are fine -- you're in control!).
Johnson's Backyard Garden: Cooking Up Dinner
Preparing panang curry
I am partial to the Mae Ploy brand of curry pastes, as my Thai friends have recommended them. Central Market carries the red, green, and yellow, but the Asian groceries like MT Market up at the Chinatown complex on North Lamar and Braker has the panang. Yes, these curries are all different and are nothing like Indian curry!
Mae Ploy Panang Curry Paste Johnson's Backyard Garden dinner
Available at local Asian markets
Potato and pea mint salad is a recipe that my mom used to make. Cube/large dice (your choice on size, just so they are mostly uniform so they will cook evenly) about a pound and a half of red potatoes (I used three small fist-sized ones), and either boil or steam them until tender. Drain, rinse with cold water, and toss with 1 - 2 tablespoons white vinegar to keep from sticking as they cool down. Blanch about a cup of green peas until just cooked, and drain and rinse in cold water. Toss with the potatoes. Add 2 - 3 tablespoons of fresh chopped mint.  In a small bowl, combine about 1/3 cup mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Add to potato mixture, combine well, and refrigerate for at least an hour so flavors can meld.
Johnson's Backyard Garden: Cooking Up Dinner
Like Mom used to make!
All the variety, year-round abundance, and multiple outlets from CSA deliveries to farmers market stands give Johnson's Backyard Garden a huge presence in Austin and the surrounding areas. I imagine they will be here for years to come, which is awesome. And if you really want to know where your food comes from, they take volunteers to help out in exchange for a bit of produce. Though for now, it's time to figure out that malabar spinach.... any suggestions?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Peached Tortilla

What started out as a single food trailer has become a mini empire. The Peached Tortilla now has two roving trucks and graduated to a brick and mortar establishment in December 2014 at 5520 Burnet Road, in the heart of the ever-changing Allendale neighborhood. We arrived around 5:30 pm, and headed to the eight-seat bar for the social hour menu.

My friend had been a few times before, and remembered affable and highly skilled barman Kevin. It was a treat to watch him throughout the evening, as he was adroitly mixing drinks directly in front of us, while chatting with us and training a newer bartender. I had the Kentucky Mule, a twist on a Moscow Mule, using bourbon instead of vodka. Kevin also gave us a taste of just the plain ginger beer (that he makes!) which was pungent and refreshing on its own.
The Peached Tortilla Kentucky Mule cocktail
From the social hour menu, we got three items to snack on, starting with the chicken karaage which were nice and crisp. Great texture and not at all greasy. The menu says it's a gochujang dipping sauce; this one had more of a soy flavor than a pronounced chile/spicy taste but it was well rounded and perfect with the chicken.
 The Peached Tortilla chicken karaage
Kimchi arancini balls with two different aiolis, sriracha and wasabi. The sriracha was definitely the winner of the sauces; I am not the biggest wasabi fan, but had a hard time really detecting any wasabi flavor. The rice balls were also breaded and fried well, and were nice a savory on their own.
The Peached Tortilla kimchi arancini balls
What's called Mom's Toast on the menu is a shrimp toast also with a gochujang sauce. I LOVED these! Super crisp and tasty. The sauce here seemed a bit sweet, but was a good foil to the salty fried goodness. I am now craving these. All the time.
The Peached Tortilla Mom's Toast shrimp toast
After the appetizers, neither of us were exactly starving, but didn't feel that we should miss the opportunity to order off the regular menu for dinner.  My friend had previously had the Thai Chop Chop Salad, and I thought it would be a good choice after the fried foods. It's got Napa cabbage, fried tofu and shallots, green apple, fresno peppers, watermelon radishes, puffed rice, Thai vinaigrette and fish sauce caramel in it. I really enjoyed the medley of texture and flavors, though I didn't really find much apple or peanuts in it. I ate about a third of it and took the rest home for lunch the next day. Unfortunately, with the puffed rice, this salad did not hold up well overnight, so I would not recommend taking it as leftovers.
The Peached Tortilla Thai Chop Chop Salad
Here's my friend's dish; I can see how the Lush Pork Belly Bowl got its name! The pork was SO good! Nice thick meaty pieces that were cooked well. I've had a couple people tell me that's their favorite dish there, and I can see why. You can't really tell from the picture, but that's a 45 minute soft-boiled egg in the middle of the bowl, and there's rice underneath.  I don't regret the chop salad, but this would be real hard to pass up in the future.
The Peached Tortilla Lush Pork Belly Bowl
Overall, a really good first experience at the Peached Tortilla! If you can get there for social hour (5 - 7 pm), I can definitely recommend sitting at the bar and enjoying some food there. By the time we left around 7:30ish, the place was packed, and there were a few people waiting for tables. They do have a small patio area outside, but when it's 100 degrees outside (and the patio is on the Burnet Road side), not sure that's much of an option! But if you like Asian fusion, are into different flavors and textures, and are up for creative cocktails, go get Peached!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Pie Plante

I've been familiar with the Pie Plante trailer for a little while now, as it is parked in the same lot as my Moroccan friends, the Flying Carpet (504 W. Oltorf, next to Church's Fried Chicken).  Owner Mark Plante is a self-taught baker who saw the need for pies in Austin (yes!), and has been in business for almost a year. He invited a few bloggers out last week for an informal gathering, a mini pie social if you will! I was not asked for nor financially compensated for a blog post, and all opinions are my own.

The trailer usually has three to four selections daily, and a slice of pie is $5. Whole pies are available by pre-order, and range from $32-42 (contact Mark for additional varieties). And remember, whole pies aren't just for the holidays! Today's selections were: bourbon sour cherry, chocolate mousse, and my obsession, his coconut cream pie!
The cherry pie was loaded with fruit, and had a distinctive, but not overpowering bourbon taste. I am not as much of a cherry or berry pie fan, but this was outstanding, and had a crumb topping. Vanilla ice cream would be an excellent addition! The chocolate mousse was nice and light, and there was no cloying sweetness to it, while maintaining a good chocolate flavor. And finally, the coconut cream. To me, it's perfect. A smooth custard filling, whipped topping, and toasted coconut flakes on top. The coconut definitely has a presence, you don't have to second guess what kind of pie you're tasting!  Here's a picture of it that I took last November when I took a slice home.
This is owner Mark in the trailer. He'll be taking a vacation (and staying out of the August heat!) here shortly, so keep your eye on his Facebook page for hours. He also updates his daily pie selections there too.
And in case you need more evidence that the pies are fantastic. We licked these clean!
So stop by Pie Plante and either eat your pie there, or take them home, but you won't regret it! The bourbon sour cherry will also be available by the slice at Farm to Market Grocery starting this month!

Pie Plante
504 W. Oltorf Street, just east of South First (blue house in the front of the lot, next to the driveway)
In the lot with The Flying Carpet and Cheke's Tacos
Instagram and Twitter: @pieplante
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday 6 - 10 pm, or sold out

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Arkansas Road Trip

Here are the highlights of my five day road trip last week two weeks ago to Arkansas with one of my best friends!

A proper road trip headed north of Austin requires a stop in West at the Czech Stop for kolaches!
We made it to Bentonville in about 9 hours total, and while the home of Wal-mart holds little appeal to me personally, at a population of about 40,000 people, the town has a certain charm to it. I'd call it *cosmopolitan* for Arkansas. There are a shocking number of ethnic restaurants in Bentonville, especially Thai, for a town that size, but I think it's a testament to the international business that Wal-mart does. But neither my friend nor I felt that eating Asian food, and particularly sushi, would be a smart move in a land-locked state, and we found a trendyish Italian bistro for dinner in the downtown area.

Tavola Trattoria was fairly full on the Tuesday night we were there. We split the bruscetta appetizer, which might have been a little heavy on the pesto, and we probably should have split an entree since we couldn't take the leftovers, but lesson learned. I had the papparadelle with bolognese sauce, which had a nice heartiness to it. Might be a bit much for a summer dish, as the portions were large as well.
Tavola Trattoria Bentonville, Arkansas
This was the weirdest thing ever at the free hotel breakfast....and the pancakes had a very spongy texture! Fail.
We drove about 30 miles east of Bentonville through Hobbs State Park to War Eagle Mill, which was first built in 1832; it has been rebuilt a few times since, but it is still in use. They currently sell a large number of grains, as well as jams and canned goods from the region. (I bought some white stone ground grits, and made them with part water and part milk. They are super-creamy and have a good corn taste to them.) Upstairs they have a small cafe, where we had lunch; I had their house special of pinto beans and cornbread.
War Eagle Mill
Then we drove back to Bentonville and headed to the Crystal Bridges Museum, which was the main purpose for visiting Bentonville. CBM was founded by Alice Walton, yes, of the Wal-mart family; she wanted to create a free and accessible American art museum, and she has done just that. It's a stunning, world-class facility in ARKANSAS (yeah, I know, it still sounds like an oxymoron to me....), so if you should ever find yourself in northwest Arkansas, CBM is decidedly worth a visit. And come on, it's risk free, as it's free admission. They do charge a small amount for their special exhibits like the Andy Warhol show that's currently on display, but totally worth it.
Crystal Bridges Museum tree sculpture by Roxy Paine
I loved this stainless steel tree sculpture titled Yield by Roxy Paine.
Crystal Bridges Museum Andy Warhol exhibit
From the Andy Warhol exhibit.
One of the main reasons I wanted to go to CBM was to experience their James Turrell installation, Skyspace: The Way of Color. I've done two of his Skyspace installations before (one in Japan, and one at the University of Texas); it's an oval room with a opening in the ceiling to the sky. There's an LED light show that starts gradually changing colors just before sunset and sunrise. The intent is to "work" with nature, light, and time and to experience the different colors; each person's perspective of the colors is a bit different. What may appear a vivid blue to one person may be more greenish to another. If you ever get a chance to experience one, it can be a pretty cool meditative session.
Crystal Bridges Museum James Turrell Skyspace The Way of Color
Crystal Bridges Museum James Turrell Skyspace The Way of Color
Leaving Bentonville, we took Highway 71 which runs parallel to the interstate and borders the Ozark National Forest.  Some scenic views along the way, and some not-so-scenic in the form of confederate flags. We made our way to Interstate 40, and to the town of Altus, an old mining town. My friend's grandfather was born there in 1914, but only lived there the first 5 years of his life. She wanted to see what the area was like, and we also discovered that Altus was the heart of Arkansas wine country (another oxymoron, I know). We found the town's heritage museum, which was quaint, but not terribly informative, and saw about two places open for lunch. We chose Kelts, an Irish pub with a dark interior, where we were the only patrons for the slightly crusty proprietor who prepared us our burgers more medium to well-done than I care for.

I had been previously told that Post Familie Vineyards was the best one in town, so after lunch, we took the short drive to it, where we found a really lovely facility and very friendly people. They were doing some private label bottling, using an old-fashioned cork machine, and we tasted 5 or 6 of their different wines. I really liked their seyval, a light, crisp white and at $9/bottle, it's a great deal, and the grapes for this one were grown in the region. Also found some Kyya chocolate there, which is a line produced in Arkansas. This one was a bit too earthy for my tastes, but still love the concept.
Altus Wine Capital of Arkansas Post Familie Wine
From here, we headed on to Little Rock, where we checked out the Bill Clinton Presidential Library. Still haven't figured out why there was an exhibit of animatronic dinosaurs there, but oh well! I loved seeing the gallery of gifts from other nations such as jewel-encrusted swords, the portrait of Socks the cat, and the blown glass sculpture from Dale Chihuly. And during Clinton's years in the Oval Office, you could view his daily schedule of events as put together by the Chief of Staff, which had practically every minute of the day in queue.
Clinton Presidential Museum
Clinton Presidental Library nail clipper
The all-important Presidential nail clipper!
We had a very fine lunch at the library's restaurant, Forty-two (Clinton was the 42nd president). I guess you could call it a modern Southern menu, with attractive presentations, and rather affordable pricing. We split these two dishes which were $12-13 each, roasted corn with cojita cheese, pork belly, and a shishito pepper and Crystal hot sauce infused chicken wings over a cornmeal waffle.
Forty-two, the restaurant at the Clinton Library
We took a trolley tour from the library through downtown and just over the river into North Little Rock before it looped back around again. For a whopping $1, it was a great way to see a little bit of the area and it was air conditioned! We also discovered that the headquarters for Heifer International were in the complex behind the Clinton Library, so we stopped by to check them out. Their mission is sustainable agriculture, and they function by the saying "Give a man a fish, he can eat for a day; teach a man to fish, he can feed himself for a lifetime." I have donated to them in the past, but feel more connected to them now having seen their facility. Check them out! :)

And we couldn't leave Arkansas without trying some barbecue. I had done a little research before we left, and had heard about HB's, which I could tell from the map was located between the Clinton Library downtown and our hotel in west Little Rock. It's certainly a diamond in the rough, and run by the same family since the early 1960s. They're apparently known for their pork ribs, which I would have loved to try, but they only have them on Tuesdays. So we got some chopped pork and beef, a couple sides, and a coconut fried pie, and took them back to the hotel for a picnic dinner. Apart from the beans, I really liked everything we tried, but the ribs I am sure are legendary.
HB's Bar-B-Que Little Rock
HB's Bar-B-Que Little Rock chopped beef and pork
HB's Bar-B-Que Little Rock coconut fried pie
And on the drive back to Austin, we had to make a stop at a Texas Stop Sign -- aka, Dairy Queen -- for a Blizzard! Fortunately, they had a tiny size available! So hope you enjoyed my little travel and food journey through Arkansas.  I wish we had been able to go to Hot Springs, as I hear it's beautiful, but there's always next time!
Dairy Queen Texas Stop Sign