Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hai Ky on Oltorf & New Sweet Treats on S. Lamar

Let's start off by saying that I DID go for a 45 minute walk this morning, in the 70-something degree weather, this fine January morning. Which left me hungry. Fortunately, I had already arranged to meet a friend for pho, as other friends at work yesterday were talking about it, giving me that craving.

Hai Ky is a great little inexpensive place to meet your needs. Located on Oltorf, just before Burleson, it's in a relatively non-descript strip mall. We go in, sit, and are immediately brought menus, and asked what we want to drink. Having discussed it on the way there, we knew we wanted the crispy eggrolls and rangoon to start off, but we need another minute for the entrees. The very mellow (but polite) waiter (oh yeah, there is a head shop in the same strip center...) comes right back with the waters, and takes the rest of our orders. I will have the #13 -- Pho Tai, which is with eye round steak, and my friend has opted for #82 -- Mongolian Tofu.

The appetizers come fast... still hot from the fryer, but not just dripping with grease. The rangoon are shaped differently than how I've seen them in the past -- these are in half-moons, like dumplings, rather than in a wonton/tortellini shape. The cream cheese inside is screaming hot, but they are delicious. The eggrolls are tightly rolled, with a kinda mushy blend of pork, shrimp, and veggies. I think it's all pureed together, then put into the wrappers. They're tasty, but nothing to get excited about.

Our main dishes come when we're still blowing on the appetizers to cool them down. My #13 pho bowl is a large steaming bowl of broth, with thin vermicelli rice noodles on the bottom, very thin cuts of eye round steak, some veggies, and a side plate with a lime wedge, fresh bean sprouts, thai basil, and sliced jalapenos. It's a lot of food. Come to think of it, the waiter did ask me if I wanted the small or large when I ordered... didn't know I had a choice! I opted for the small. I still have leftovers. The broth is nice, you can taste the star anise in it. The meat is good and fresh, by now completely submerged in the broth, and hence cooked all the way through; when it was brought to the table, I could see bits of pink in the meat where the hot broth hadn't hit it yet. I use my fork to get at the noodles, and the Asian soup spoon to slurp at the broth. Nice contrast of textures and flavor.

The #82 tofu dish is quite lovely too. There is a next of crispy fried egg noodles on the bottom of the plate, topped with 1/4 inch slabs of the tofu, which has been nicely char-grilled, like they do pork. Great flavor to it between the grilling and the sauce, and lots of sauteed green onions and chives accompany it. So as we're sitting there eating, my friend asks me if I've been to the new Pie Slice bakery on S. Lamar. No, I hadn't, nor have I been to the new Moonlight Bakery, also on S. Lamar. So we hatch a plan... she'll pay for our lunch (a whopping $16 and change), and I'll pay for our desserts. And off we go!

We go to Moonlight first... sort of in an odd location, next to Batteries Plus, but it must be working for them, as we were part of a small wave of 4 separate customers that descended at the same time. Painted in nice bright colors, a lovely glass case of the day's treats welcomes you. There were cookies, brownies, cinnamon rolls (2 kinds), palmiers, croissants, kolaches... the eyes got REAL big, and the stomach said "oh no!". After much oohing and ahhing, we settled on a palmier and chocolate croissant, which we split, and a couple cookies for me to take to our hairdresser friend, who I had an appointment with in an hour. I've nibbled on the palmier, which is heavenly! It's really crisp (no sogginess here!), buttery, and flaky, just as it should be. I only took a little bite of the croissant so far because I am so full, but it too seems lovely -- you can see all the layers, and it tastes like good quality semi-sweet chocolate on the inside.

Then up the street to Pie Slice... these 2 spots are no more than a half mile apart, and both on the west side of Lamar. (For those who know where the Horseshoe Lounge is, Pie Slice is in the building directly north of HL, between it and La Feria.) Pie Slice offers pies, cakes, muffins, cookies, and a few other sweets, as well as having a full-service menu with everything from breakfast tacos to pizza to sandwiches and salads. The desserts in the case looked fantastic. It didn't take too long though to decide on a piece ($4.25) of the chocolate espresso pie. A rather generous sized piece was cut, put into a box, and off we went. So back to my house, were we we dove right in! It was fantastic. Now those who know me, know I am picky about pies because of the crust -- a crust makes or breaks the pie. I love baking my own pies, because I really like making the crust, call me crazy! This pie had a fantastic crust -- chocolate chips, walnuts, and a touch of cinnamon in it. And you could taste some butter, though I think it probably had some shortening in it too for the flakiness. The filling was a dense chocolate mousse with a noticeable espresso flavor, but not overpowering. Then, it was topped off with real whipped cream. OH MY GOD. I really can't wait to go back and try more. A friend who I saw over the weekend has been in there a couple of times for the "real" food, and had good things to say about it, so that bodes well. (Sorry, photo's a bit out of focus.)

Meanwhile, I have eaten more than intended today! I think I need to go for another walk before I eat another sweet potato burger and fruit for dinner! Oh, and my hairdresser friend gobbled down the Moonlight cookies and said they were fantastic too. So while E. Oltorf has always been a Vietnamese food destination, S. Lamar is becoming the homegrown-bakeries hot spot! All the better for me, in my 'hood!

Sweet Potato Burgers



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So, I found this recipe online, and while it sounded a little odd, I really liked the idea. I've tweaked it a bit, so here's my version that I made last night. It came out as a nice, hearty vegetarian meal! The sweet potato definitely gives it a the denseness needed, and surprisingly, it held together without egg or other binding agent. I rushed the caramelization of my onions, so they didn't come out quite as I had hoped, but still tasty!

Sweet Potato Burgers
(makes 4 medium burgers)

olive oil for sauteeing
2 medium yellow onions, sliced into rings
1 medium sweet potato (or yam), approx. 1 pound, washed & cubed (you can leave the skins on)
1/2 of a red onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp chipotle chile powder
1/4 tsp Spanish smoked paprika (the hot, not the sweet)
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
few grinds of fresh black pepper
1 - 2 Tbsp cilantro, chopped (or use flat leaf parsley if you don't like cilantro)
1/2 cup pecans, toasted & coarsely chopped
whole grain buns (or bread of choice...I used challah bread rolls)
mayo, bbq sauce as condiments

-- In a large, heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil; add sliced yellow onion. On medium-low heat, allow to onion to cook slowly, gradually browning and caramelizing. Remove from heat when done.(You can add a touch of salt to help draw out moisture, and a touch of sugar to help sweeten the deal.)
-- As onions cook, place sweet potatoes in a small saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and let simmer for about 10 minutes or until tender. Drain, run a little cold water over them to stop the cooking, drain again, and set aside.
-- As sweet potatoes, cook, heat a medium skillet over medium heat, and add a tablespoon of oil. Add chopped red onion, cooking about 5 minutes until becoming translucent and tender. Add garlic, and saute for 2 minutes, then remove from heat.
-- In a food processor, combine oats, cinnamon, chile, paprika, coriander, cumin, salt & pepper; pulse a few times until the oats are finely ground.
-- Add sweet potatoes, onions/garlic, and cilantro, and pulse until well combined. Stir in pecans.
-- Form mixture into 4 medium patties.
-- To cook, heat a large, preferably non-stick skillet, with a little bit of oil over medium heat. Cook about 3 minutes per side, or until browned.
-- Serve on buns (I like mine toasted, with a little mayo & bbq sauce, and the caramelized onions on top. Enjoy!

The next go-around, I may saute the sweet potato a bit after boiling/steaming so they get a bit more texture to them. Actually, roasting them from the get go may be the way to do it! Adjust the spices to your comfort level. If you don't want so much cumin, use less... there are no rules here!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

(More) Sugar Mama's!

Mmmm. Cupcakes. How can you ever get tired of them? Last night was the fabulous wedding of a lovely friend at Thurman's Mansion, adjacent to the Salt Lick. A delcious BBQ dinner was had by all! (See the Salt Lick post from a few days back.)

Instead of having a traditional cake, the bride & groom went for a charming tier of Sugar Mama's cupcakes! We had 4 chocolate varieties, from bottom to top in the photo:
-- the James Brown, a chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting
-- the Black and Tan, a Guinness cupcake with Bailey's Irish cream cheese frosting
-- German Chocolate, chocolate cake with pecan, coconut & caramel frosting (also the bride's favorite, and this was the top-tier topper)
-- the Peanut Butter Cup, a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter chips, and pb buttercream frosting

The two vegans in attendance were also extremely pleased with the mint chocolate and ginger lemon cupcakes. Sugar Mama's came out and set up everything -- thank you!!!! -- and now I have to return the cupcake stand to them. Maybe I should pick up something while I am there...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Moroccan Clementines

A little trip down memory lane! Central Market has gotten in little crates of clementines... these were DELICIOUS when we were there! There's about 20 to a box, so I hope I can eat them all before they go bad! And at $5.99 right now, they're a steal! These come from the Souss Valley, in the southwest part of the country, near Taroudant, where we stayed. It's a really rich agricultural valley.

The pictures above.... I think the one of the tree I took when we were in Rabat, our hotel, the Villa Mandarin, had fabulous gardens. And the other is the crate in my kitchen! Yum!


Enoteca is the appetizing little sister of Vespaio, a distinguished Italian mainstay on South Congress for several years now. Vespaio was hip before the rest of SoCo caught up with it. Enoteca is it's bistro side; the two share the same kitchen, and much of the same flavors you can get at Vespaio can be had at Enoteca for less money. Trust me though, if I could afford Vespaio on a regular basis, I'd be there. I think its chef's have revolved over the years, I've never had a bad experience. It's a great date place, though it can be a bit loud.

When you walk into Enoteca, there is a deli counter in the front of the store, where the daily antipasti is waiting either to be served to diners or packed up in to go containers. A bar curves around to the left, and several small 3-top tables occupy the middle of the floor, and 4 and 6-toppers to the right. The kitchen is straight back, and Vespaio to the right...just to the side of the hostess stand, is a roll-up door that leads to Vespaio. It's often open for lunch as there's a small room in the front of Vespaio that Enoteca uses for lunch diners. It is one of my favorite places to go, as it's casual, affordable, and above all, good.

In the past 4 days, I've been twice, last Thursday for dinner, and last night for a happy hour gathering. I ADORE the spaghetti carbonara, with it's lovely cream sauce and pancetta. I always ask for it with pappardelle or tagliatelli, some sort of pasta that's a bit wider than spaghetti, and they're always happy to oblige. (Actually, it's the bartender Rob, who's been there forever it seems who first suggested that to me, AND they make their own pasta.) The carbonara is my go-to dish. Love it. And now I am suffering from withdrawal, because I didn't order it either of these two last times.

On Thursday, we got some of the antipasti insalate -- beets, pepper shooters, and mixed olives. Since I had eaten a late lunch, I opted for the spinach salad, with gorgonzola, roasted red peppers and candied walnuts. Very tasty, and healthy! My friend had the avocado panini, which comes with little fried garbanzo beans on the side. He said the whole thing was delicious. For happy hour, six women had 2 bottle of the Valpolicella Classico, the fried calamari, the suppli, and the salsiccia pizza. The calimari are very consistent there -- tender and not greasy. The do a combo of the tube rings and the baby tentacles, and served it with garlic aioli and a marinara. The suppli are risotto balls, stuffed with fontina, lightly breaded and fried. It's a great light, crispy coating, and an ooze of rice and cheese, served in a tomato sauce; also a very consistent dish. Our attentive waiter Josh recommended the salsiccia pizza, with homemade fennel-pork sausage; they've got a wood-fired oven, so the thin crust comes out very nice. The sweet tooth then hit, and we split the chocolate caramel peanut tart (heaven! kinda a grown up Reese's) and the lemon olive oil cake (tasty, but not stellar, it really needed some more zip to it).

Two lovely evenings. Great company both times. An always reliable (though admittedly a bit short of spectacular) place. And now, I need my carbonara!

The Salt Lick


One of the well-known barbeque meccas around these parts is The Salt Lick. Located in Driftwood, about 25 minutes from downtown Austin, it's still out on a sleepy country road, but as I noticed on my drive out there last Friday, it's not going to be that sleepy for much longer. Civilization is creeping closer and closer, with new housing communities popping up. Fortunately, these folks have been doing BBQ right for years, and it doesn't look like anything is going to interfere with that anytime soon.

A friend of mine is getting married at Thurman's Mansion, just up the hill from the actual restaurant, and where the corporate offices are located. As our 10 am appointment finished just before 11 am, we cruised on over to the restaurant, which opens for lunch at 11. You walk in, and there's a big round smoke pit that looks a bit like a water well. Or maybe a wishing well, 'cause you're just wishing you could eat EVERYTHING on there! It smells gooooood! Smokey meats, all just ready for the taking. The wait staff all seem to be well-mannered local college kids, and they said to seat ourselves, so we grabbed a picnic bench past the food prep area. We both ordered ice tea (if you do ever go, it's a BYOB place.. no liquor license) and the combo plate. Our waitress brought us some nice soft white bread.... really the only time I'll eat squishy white bread like that, but this IS a BBQ joint! And within 5 minutes of taking our order, there were big ole plates of 'que in front of us. Tender brisket, with a really nice dark pink smoke ring, one pork rib (they weren't baby backs, my most favorite.... St. Louis cut?), and some incredibly juicy, tasty pork sausage. The sausage with its medium grind was certainly my favorite. As I love baby backs, this one didn't quite cut it for me... just wasn't tender or tasty enough. And the brisket, while never my first choice in a BBQ place, was quite good. Their's isn't totally falling apart at the appearance of a fork, but it was smokey, lean, and moist.

Accompanying the plates were pinto beans (which needed some kick), a good simple cole slaw, and a really good warm potato salad, with perhaps nutmeg in there. And what's a good BBQ meal without cobbler? We got the peach/blackberry combo cobbler, warmed, with a scoop of ice cream. Yum. So what if it's canned fruit. A bit of sugar and a bready topping make anything good!

It's worth the semi-scenic drive out to The Salt Lick. If you go in the evening, apparently they often have live music, so you can take a beer or two, eat some grub, and relax. Oh yeah, and take cash... no plastic accepted here. (There is an ATM at the door, but if it's down, you may be outta luck!)

Lucky me, though, I'll be back there on Saturday for a BBQ buffet after my friend's wedding!