Monday, November 26, 2012

Bits and Bites

-- Austin Java is opening a new branch in Tarrytown at 3110 Windsor Road on November 26th (today!).

-- Lucky Robot (formerly Zen, at 1303 South Congress) will have their official grand opening on November 28th, and will have food and drink specials throughout the day, including $2 Asian tacos, sashimi specials, along with drink specials.

-- East Side King will open their first brick and mortar at the former Hole in the Wall, on the Drag, 2538 Guadalupe, on December 4th. 

-- New Indian grocery store, Gandhi Bazar, at William Cannon and Brodie Lane, by Cafe Malta.

 -- The newly formed Texas Farm to Table Food Caucus holds their kick-off celebration with number of notable local chefs all preparing locally sourced foods, November 29th at Boggy Creek Farms. From the press release:  "The Texas House Farm-to-Table Food Caucus was formed in the spring of 2012 to educate members of the Texas House of Representatives on issues relating to the growing, harvesting and consumption of Texas foods. The bipartisan Caucus is the first of its kind in the nation and was founded and is chaired by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) and vice chaired by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). "
-- Edible Austin's Eat Drink Local Week kicks off on December 1st; the week-long activities support the Sustainable Food Center and Urban Roots. Events include: Urban Bicycle Tour on the 1st; a screening of the movie Sideways on the 3rd; and from December 1 - 8, dine at one of over 50 participating restaurants that will feature locally sourced entree specials. (And the restaurants in South Austin: Homeslice Pizza, Jack Allen's Kitchen, Kerbey Lane, Lenoir, Olivia, People's Pharmacy, Snack Bar, Thai Fresh, and Wholly Cow Burger.) The SFC is also in the midst of a capital campaign to build their new facility. Stay tuned for more info on that in an upcoming blog post!

From the City of Austin's Small Business Development Program
-- There's a new website promoting small, locally owned businesses -- Locally Austin!!! Tell all your favorite local businesses to register with them -- it's FREE to register! Great tool, especially with the holiday shopping season now upon us!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Flying Carpet: An Update

Four years ago at Election Day, I was in Morocco; Marrakesh to be precise. The Moroccan people were very excited at the prospect of electing someone of African descent to the presidency, and they shouted their exuberance even more upon seeing a group of Americans on Wednesday after Obama's victory. (You can read my post from 2008 right here.) Fast forward to 2012, I figured some Moroccan food was in order on Election Day to bring some good luck to this tight race.

A friend of mine is a cousin to Maria, as in Maria and Abdu Souktouri, who own and operate The Flying Carpet trailer. Through this connection, I have gotten to know them a bit, and have discovered they are some of the most genuinely nice people out there. They have always poured their heart and soul into everything they serve out of their little blue trailer. 
TFC is located at 504 West Oltorf Street, just a little bit east of South First Street, next to the Church's Chicken. There is a small blue house in front, and a large lot though the driveway in the back, where they are creating a little food trailer community! Along with them are Regal Ravioli and La Fantabulous Tacos; I haven't tried them yet, but Maria & Abdu both say they are great! **Soon!**

As Abdu was preparing our food in the trailer, Maria took us inside the house. Presently, it is not open to the public for dining. Maria said their goal is to create a little cafe with tea, coffee and pastries/cookies (she bakes!) and have a Moroccan lounge. They know the soul of their business is preparing food from their trailer, so they're not looking to move the whole operation into the house, which would require a huge amount of renovation to install a commercial kitchen. It's a nice open space, with some cozy couches in one corner, a couple tables, and another couch/lounge area in another corner.
With the various pieces of Moroccan decor -- tajines,  lanterns, this wooden tray, which I knew to be from the coastal area of Essouria, as we visited there -- they are creating a nice ambiance. The tea set is also something you see everywhere in the country -- you have sweetened mint tea at every meal, and if you are a special guest, the host will make an even bigger show of pouring you a glass!
Oh yeah, and the food! I ordered a Big Abdu, which is seasoned ground beef kefta (shaped like a sausage, rather than a patty), eggplant, a fried egg (and fortunately for me, their fried eggs are more scrambled than fried), and French fries all inside a pita bread with their delicious l'Afrique sauce. I was starving, so I almost forgot to take a picture of the wrap. So yeah, not the best picture, but the food was tasty and a great mix of textures. Get extra sauce! And napkins! It's kind of a mess, but who cares?
TFC doesn't have tajine dishes on their day to day menu, but special orders can be made in advance and they also offer private catering. I was recently involved in a Facebook conversation regarding food trailers in South Austin, and someone commented that they had tried to go to TFC a couple times, but they had been closed. As I commented on that post, Maria and Abdu are a small, locally-owned business. Generally, it is just the two of them; only occasionally can they hire someone else to help out in the trailer. If one of them is sick or if they're doing a catering event, they can't open the trailer. But they are really good about posting on their Facebook page with status updates, so check there before going. TFC was also recently recognized by the Austin Chronicle's Best of Austin Picks as Best Slow Food/Fast Food Hybrid! 

So after eating Moroccan food, I went home to watch the election results. Needless to say, Maria and Abdu's food, warmth, hard work, and genuine spirit brought the luck I was looking for.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bits and Bites

-- It's F1 weekend in town! A reminder that the Austin Food Blogger Alliance has a GREAT restaurant guide, all prepared by your local food bloggers! My contributions are food trailers in the south part of town, as well as restaurants.

-- Thanksgiving is only a week away! Comprehensive listing in the Statesman as to who will be open. Also, places like Easy Tiger have their dinner rolls available for pick up before Thursday, and Max's Wine Dive has several of their side dishes available too. Central Market and Whole Foods offer fully-prepared meals.  And whether you're grocery shopping for your ingredients or going out -- PLAN AHEAD! You're not the only one out there looking for organic pumpkin pie filling. Don't wait til the last minute. (And if you do, don't get grumpy when you can't find what you're looking for!)

-- Speaking of Thanksgiving, I was "invited" to a Thanksgiving pot-luck. A virtual one! My friend The Kid Can Cook organized her blogger friends to each write a post on one of their favorite Thanksgiving dishes, including my pecan pie! You see all the dishes here, and you may find a new favorite to try this year. 

-- Eater Austin has their (well, the readers picks) picks of the top trendy spots, the 2012 Eater Awards. 

-- Fonda San Miguel is holding a wine and port pairing dinner on December 5th with Niepoort Wines, $85/person.

-- The Cutie Pie Trailer is back in business at the Bouldin Creek Food Park, 1209 S. 1st Street. 

-- Zen, the Japanese fast food restaurant is changing concepts, becoming Lucky Robot, which will officially open November 28, emphasizing Harajuku fashion styles, iPad ordering, and a lot of Japanese street food, most of which will be priced under $10/dish.

-- Out in Fredericksburg, well-known pastry queen Rebecca Rather has opened her new spot -- The Pink Pig, open for B, L and D. No link yet on the website to the menu, but from the copy I've seen, it looks fantastic, I just wish it was in Austin! Their Facebook page has a little more info regarding hours, etc.

-- New Thai spot Sway to officially open December 9th at 1417 S. 1st Street; check out their tasty looking menu too!

-- Sagra has sadly announced they are closing (though looking for a place to relocate); their current landlord will not renew their lease. Read Sagra's letter posted on their homepage

-- La Boite, the food "trailer," made out of an old shipping container (before it was cool!) is closing due to their inability to find a suitable wholesale baker for their needs. 

-- Uncle Billy's Brew and 'Cue on Lake Travis, by the Oasis and Soleil.

-- Collie's Burgers, formerly part of the South Austin Trailer Bazaar has apparently closed with the closure of this trailer park.

-- Chef John Bullington and the Alamo Drafthouse have parted ways. No word yet on what's next in store for him, but he's got lots of love around town!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Recent Eats -- Italian, Cajun, Indian

Here are a few places I have been to in the past couple of weeks!

A friend and I checked out a couple of food trailers on a recent Sunday. We met at Lucky's Puccias, which is adjacent to the Tiniest Bar in Texas on West 5th and Bowie. What's a puccia, you ask? Well, it's a regional bread from the southern Italian region of Taranto (think: the heel of the Italian boot), that I would say is a cross between a pita and focaccia. Lucky's makes their own bread in a wood-fired oven, and they have a variety of sandwich options.
We got the original Lucky's, with tomatoes, arugula, fresh mozzarella, and prosciutto, and it was delicious! There's also a touch of chipotle aioli on it, which provides just enough kick. The bread is tender and soft, but didn't break apart when eating. They post their daily specials on their Facebook page, and I've seen pictures of some really yummy looking pizzas, which would be great with a beer.
We then went over to the trailer park on South Congress, large to dispel a rumor that I had heard that the lot had already been shut down for hotel development. Nope, it's still alive and well, though I imagine that day will come soon. After walking the block and seeing what our various options were, we decided on The Original New Orleans Po-Boy and Gumbo Shop.
We split the crawfish po-boy (though I really coulda sworn I ordered catfish) and a side of rice and beans. The po-boy was okay, though the bread totally fell apart. Wish there had been more remoulade or sauce or something other than under ripe tomatoes. The rice and beans though was not good. WAAAAY too salty, and if I am saying that, then it's too salty. Some of the rice at the bottom was also undercooked. We each took about two bites and that was it. I hope others have had better experiences here!
Last week, I had dinner with another friend at Asiana. "Great, Asian food!" you're probably thinking! Yeah, so was I when I first heard the name, but it's actually Indian food, located at IH-35 and William Cannon. I had never heard of Asiana until a couple weeks ago, when the Statesman released their Top 50 restaurants, this was listed at number 50, so I figured it ought to be good. Weeeellllll..... it wasn't bad, but it wasn't really what I was expecting, though it's entirely possible I didn't order their best dishes.

I started with an order of samosas, which turned out to be four smaller-sized ones. Well-fried, and/or they were fried a while ago and were keeping warm, they were your average potato and pea samosa. I was disappointed in the tamarind sauce that accompanied them; it was too thin and not twangy enough to satisfy my normal love of a good tamarind dish.
I was very excited to see the southern Indian specialty of dosas on the menu. Dosas are the Indian version of a crepe, made typically from rice and lentil flour. I thought I had ordered #20, the Mysore Masala Dosa, which was a crepe stuffed with potatoes and onions. What I received was #19, the Mysore Dosa, just the crepe with some chutnies. (Hope this isn't some sort of pattern. Am I saying the right dish, and just receiving the wrong ones???) Kind of like the tamarind, these sauces did not excite me. I did like just the plain crepe, but would have been a bit happier with the "burrito" version. I had also ordered the #45, the keema nan bread, which is described as being stuffed with a spiced ground lamb. The keema looked identical to my friend's garlic nan, so we didn't even realize at first that mine had been delivered to the table. But the lamb was ground so fine you could barely make out the specs, and sadly, there was practically no flavor to it, much less any kind of spices. Realizing that my meal was not what I had expected it to be, and also that I was in need of some protein, I quickly scanned the menu and ordered the chicken korma.
Meanwhile, my friend ordered the tandoori mixed grill, which had chicken, shrimp, and sheeh kababs (seasoned ground lamb patties). The chicken was tasty, the lamb a bit dry. Very red!
My korma arrived, and I forgot to take a picture, though it wouldn't have been very photogenic anyway. It too, was just okay. Once again, it's the sauce I had the most problem with. Not really rich, creamy, and nutty like kormas I have had before. Thinner, and I wouldn't say there was a distinct flavor to it, though it was more yellow (turmeric) than what I feel like I typically see. Just kind of uninteresting. Oh, and I should say a word about the decor at Asiana. WHAT decor?!? There's almost nothing up on the walls, except a few ill-fitting photographs that look like they were left over from a 1990s travel business. There was the Denver skyline and the London bridge, as well as a covered wagon. These alone left me scratching my head.

I would go back to Lucky's Puccia's in a heartbeat! The other two.... I am in no hurry to return to, unfortunately. Thanks also to Foodie is the New Forty for the Lucky's recommendation!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Thanksgiving Traditions -- Pecan Pie

My grandparents were farmers in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and raised a whole bounty of crops -- cotton, lettuce, onions, green chiles (before they were trendy!), and pecans being the primary ones. I grew up in Washington, DC, and every year after the fall harvest, my grandparents would ship a box of whole, shell-on pecans to us. We would have "quality family time" by sitting around, cracking the pecans, and prying the nut-meat out of the shells. It's literally a dirty and laborious job -- pecan dust, jagged shells poking your fingers, nuts that don't come out whole....but the end result is worth it. Meaty, fresh pecans, ready for eating!

Thanksgiving at our house always, ALWAYS meant it was pecan pie time! We usually shared our Thanksgiving with some close family friends, alternating each year who's house it was held at. Between the stuffing (dressing) and pecan pie, that's what I came to look forward to the most, and that still holds true today!
This is the pecan pie recipe that my mother typed up (yes, on a typewriter!) for me in the late 1990s, when I was starting my own Thanksgiving traditions. It comes from the 1975 Williamsburg Cookbook (as in colonial Williamsburg, Virginia), and is fairly fool-proof. In recent years, I have exchanged the light corn syrup for brown rice syrup or Lyle's Golden Syrup, both of which work fine, and gives it a bit of a deeper flavor, and I have reduced the white sugar to about 1/2 cup; I have left the original recipe intact here though. I am also a stickler for making my own pie crusts, which I love doing! A crust makes the pie!

Pecan Pie

unbaked crust, fitted into a 9" pie pan (recipe below)
4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt (I use Redmond Real Salt for baking)
1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
1 tablespoon melted, cooled butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pecan halves or pieces (I add a 1/4 - 1/2 cup additional, just because)

-- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
-- Beat eggs lightly in a medium bowl, and add sugar, salt, corn syrup, butter and vanilla. 
-- Stir until mixed well.
-- Spread pecans on the bottom of the pie crust, evenly distributing; pour filling over.
-- Place on a cookie sheet or baking pan (to catch any spills from the filling) in oven and immediately reduce temperature to 350 degrees. 
-- Bake 45 - 55 minutes, or until mixture is firm in center; give the pie pan a little shake -- if it's still pretty jiggly in the center, bake a few minutes longer until set.
-- Remove from oven and let cool completely before serving; real whipped cream is my ideal accompaniment to this pie. Also good for breakfast the next morning if there are leftovers.

* You might not need all of the filling; if you've got tartlet shells, through some extra pecans into them and use the leftover filling. They'll bake in about 25 minutes.
* For Thanksgiving, I try to bake this the night before or first thing in the morning on T-day so it has plenty of time to cool if we don't eat until at least late afternoon.

Pie Crust -- good for any pie! 

* Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Basic Flaky Pie Crust recipe in the Pie and Pastry Bible. It's not quick, but it's GOOD!

1 1/3 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 teaspoon table salt (again, I use Redmond Real Salt)
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (frozen is fine too)
4 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening (like Earth's Balance sticks) OR good lard, like from Austin's Dai Due
3 - 4 tablespoons icy cold water
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

-- In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt; set aside.
-- Working quickly with your fats, cut the sticks into individual tablespoon-sized pats; then cut each pat into 9 smaller, pea-sized pieces. You may want to dip your knife into the flour to help prevent the butter/shortening/lard from sticking to the knife. Once you have the smaller pieces, add to the flour, and toss to coat.
-- For this next step, I prefer to use my hands, but some people prefer a pastry blender tool or a large metal fork. I have more control with my hands, and I like the feel of it. Try to move the fats to one side of the bowl, again, working quickly, rub the pieces between your fingers and thumb to flatten them out; try to place the flattened pieces on the other side of the bowl. It's a quick motion; the pieces don't need much handling, and the object is NOT to make them flat like a piece of paper, just thinner than what they were. Think light and airy, not heavy and clumpy.
-- Have a piece of wax paper or a silicone pad handy.
-- Once the fats are flattened and dispersed evenly through the flour, sprinkle the ice water and cider vinegar over the flour (don't just dump it all in the middle); start with the minimum amount of water, and add more as needed. I don't think I've ever used less than 3 1/2 tablespoons, and sometimes as much as 5+. Will depend on your climate that day.
-- With a large fork, gently toss the flour so it incorporates the water; I usually then move to my hands, and start pressing the dough together. If it does not readily stick, add a little more water. Bring dough together into a shaggy ball, and turn out onto wax paper. Keep pressing all the little scraps and pieces of dough together. You're not KNEADING the dough (which activates the glutens and can make it tough), but pressing it all together into a ball or disc.
-- Form into a disc, about 5 inches in diameter and an inch thick. Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. This allows the glutens to relax and the fats to re-chill.
-- When ready to roll out, remove from fridge and let sit on the counter for another 10 minutes.
-- Have your pie pan ready, a couple table spoons of extra flour for dusting, along with a rolling pin and a bench/pastry scraper (or large, flat turner). You can roll the dough out on wax paper, silicone pad, or a clean counter top.
-- Roll your dough out, using a few strokes with the rolling pin, and then using the bench scraper to help loosen the dough, and give it a quarter turn and dusting with flour as needed; as your "circle" (I can never make a perfect circle!) gets larger, you can give it a half turn or no turn at all, but use the scraper to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling surface. You will need to roll it out to about a 12" diameter circle for a 9" pie pan. 
-- Carefully roll your dough onto your pin and unroll it over the pie pan; reposition as needed, pat down the center, and up the sides; if there's a huge amount of overhanging crust, you may want to trim it back a bit before crimping or making a decorative edge. I usually like about a 3/4" overhang from the lip of the pie plate; I will fold it under, leaving about a 1/4 - 1/3" overhang, and then crimp. Crusts will shrink when baked. 
-- This next step is optional, but I find it helps -- place the pie pan back in the fridge for at least 20 minutes so the fats can rechill. This is what helps to make a flaky crust -- when the cold fats hit the hot oven, the water content of those fats turns to steam, thus making a little flaky pocket in your crust. The butter you laboriously flattened earlier got nicely distributed through the flour and is making nice steam pockets throughout your dough.
-- Pull your crust back out of the fridge and either blind bake if that's what your recipe calls for, or assemble your pie fillings and bake to directions. 

* You can make this crust a day or two in advance, and place the unbaked, fitted pie crust into a large resealable bag and refrigerate until ready to use.
* You can use all of one type of fat... butter gives flavor, whereas shortening/lard give flakiness, hence I like a mix.

I've made myself hungry, and now I want pie!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Bits and Bites

How did it get to be November already? 

-- Beni di Batasiolo Barolo Wine Dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Monday, November 5th, $100/person.

-- Looking for a fun happy hour? Try the new Warehouse Wednesdays! From the press release:  "Every Wednesday beginning November 7, the Warehouse District welcomes guests to enjoy a mid-week night on the town with discounted drinks, reduced cover charges, live music, and parking and valet specials. Participating establishments include TenOak, Speakeasy, Imperia, Six, Hangar, Lavaca St. Bar, Fado Irish Pub & Restaurant, Truluck’s, Lucky Lounge, Haven, Avenue on Congress (opening soon) and Peche."  

-- One of my favorite spots in town, Travaasa Spa, is hosting a farm to table harvest dinner with four local chefs and ingredients provided by farms associated with the Sustainable Food Center. November 11th, $95/person; great looking line up!
-- Thanksgiving comes early this year -- November 22nd! I've received a few emails from places that will be open on Thanksgiving Day, which so far include: Lakeway Resort and Spa ($50/person, 11am - 3pm) and Bar Mirabeau ($30/person, 1 - 9pm).