Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bits and Bites


-- Salt + Time Salumeria and Jester King Brewery are teaming up for a five-course beer dinner, Wed., July 24th, $70/person, ticket info here.

-- J. Blacks is having their 6th anniversary on July 25th, gift bags for the first 100 guests.

-- Area Jack in the Box restaurants (and no, chains and fast food usually aren't my thing) are holding a summer fan drive, July 27th; they will collect 20-inch box fans or monetary donations, that will be utilized by the United Way for Greater Austin and their clientele.

-- Banger's  will have their one year anniversary party on August 3rd, complete with live music, pig roast and some special beers.

-- Casa Brasil, along with South Austin Brewing Company, are offering their "Up and Down" Tours, a "backstage pass into the world of craft coffee and craft beer." You get tours of both facilities (next door to each other), lunch, and a goodie bag for $35! Next tour is August 10th.

-- This year's Pay It Forward with Daniel Curtis Benefit will be August 8th, 7 - 10 pm, $75/person at the AT + T Conference Center. Daniel was a food and beverage director at the AT + T/Carillon, who became a quadriplegic in a diving accident. The event benefits the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation, and has an amazing lineup of area chefs donating their time and talents (see the Pay it Forward link). I attended as a volunteer last year, and the food and energy in the room was amazing.

-- Parkside is hosting the Summer Sparkling Dinner on August 13th, $100/person, benefiting the Sustainable Food Center.

New and Updates
-- The Dojo, specializing in Japanese bar foods, has opened (yes, up north....) at 9070 Research Blvd.

-- El Pollo Rico, the Mexican-style rotisserie chicken place, has opened another spot at 1719 E. William Cannon.

-- Pelons Tex Mex, at 8th and Red River (the old Jaime's Spanish Village), is now offering Sunday brunch, complete with a Bloody Mary bar. I don't see the menu online as of this posting, but the press release mentions huevos rancheros, migas, breakfast tacos and burritos.

-- Coming this winter, Olamie, a modern Southern restaurant will open at 1610 San Antonio (the old Mars and Sagra location). Prior to their formal opening, they will host a series of pop-up meals at various establishments around town, starting at Lenoir, August 6 - 10.

-- Wheatsville Co-op's new spot on South Lamar is slated to open on/around August 28th.

In the past two weeks, I have attended three media tastings/soft openings (thank you for having me!), all very good!

The new PhoNatic in Southpark Meadows -- pork bun (vermicelli) bowl and eye of round pho.

Kenichi downtown -- seabass with grapefruit, seaweed + wilted spinach, prosciutto-wrapped big eye tuna, butterfish

Arro's soft opening -- mussels + frites, antelope, croque monsieur, four desserts (chocolate pot de creme on the right stole the show!).

And, the Austin Food Blogger's Alliance fundraiser for the ARC -- Cocktails and Cupcakes! Thanks again to all of our sponsors. Cupcakes: Blue Note Bakery, Butter Stick Bakery, Crema Bakery + Cafe, Delish, SugaPlump Pastries, Sugar Mama's Bakeshop. Cocktails: T1 Tequila, Treaty Oak Distillery, Hops + Grain.  Flowers: Central Market Westgate. Facility + Appetizers: Le Cordon Bleu of Austin. Additional support by Google+.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Summer Skillet Lasagna

It's hot. Whether you are in Austin or other warm climates, the summertime often means using the oven much less than at other times of the year. But what is a pasta-loving foodie like me supposed to do if I can't make mac and cheese or lasagna? Fortunately, I've come up with a good stove top skillet lasagna that minimizes some of the heat in the kitchen, and it's not real heavy so you won't feel weighed down in the hot weather. I use a premade tomato sauce, but if you are feeling industrious, make your own sauce with some fabulous summer tomatoes.
I started with fresh Italian chicken sausage, removed the casing, and crumbled it in the skillet, cooking all the way through. I am fortunate to have Central Market nearby, there's a ton of fresh-made sausages in the meat case, and again, I like a chicken sausage for this recipe, but pork or beef is fine too. And if you can't find a fresh chicken sausage, use a pre-cooked one that's been diced; saute it for a few minutes so the pieces crisp up a bit. Alternatively, if you are cooking vegetarian, get a couple portobello mushrooms, remove the stem and gills, cut into 1/2 inch strips, and then a 1/2 inch dice; saute in a little olive oil until lightly browned. Remove sausage/mushrooms from skillet. 
As the sausage cooks, I used a handy "y-peeler" to make zucchini ribbons. I find this works better than a conventional peeler, or you could use a mandoline slicer.
In the skillet, begin assembling your lasagna. First some sauce, then noodles, then zucchini, sausage, ricotta, and repeat the layers, topping it off with fresh mozzarella. 
I take an off-set spatula and spread the ricotta out into an even layer before adding the next layer.
Cover the skillet, and cook 20 - 25 minutes over medium-low heat (you want the sauce to be gently bubbling as it cooks); the cheese on top will be melty, the sauce will have filled the skillet, and the noodles should be tender. Remove the lid and turn off the heat.
Let it sit for a few minutes before cutting into it; serve with a generous sprinkling of fresh basil leaves. Once cooled completely, I cut the lasagna into single portions and freeze them for an easy meal later on. Enjoy and stay cool!

Summer Skillet Lasagna
 © South Austin Foodie 2013

approximately 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use
8 ounces fresh chicken sausage, casings removed (or portobello mushrooms, diced)
24 ounces tomato/pasta sauce
6 full length (about 10 inches) no boil lasagna noodles, cut in half, making twelve 5" lengths
1 small zucchini, sliced lengthwise into ribbons
15 ounces low fat ricotta cheese
salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
3 - 4 leaves fresh basil, sliced thinly 
Parmesan cheese, optional

-- In a 12" covered skillet, heat 1 - 2 teaspoons of olive oil over medium-low heat; add crumbled sausage (or mushrooms), and saute until lightly browned and sausage is cooked all the way through. Remove from skillet.
-- In the same skillet (with heat on lowest setting), add about 1 cup of tomato sauce to the bottom of the pan. Place 4 noodle strips down, followed by zucchini ribbons, about half the sausage, and about half the ricotta. Take a knife or offset spatula and smooth the ricotta into an even layer. 
-- Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, a smidge of salt, and a grind or two of fresh black pepper; top with about a cup of sauce.
-- Now repeat: noodle, zucchini, remaining sausage and ricotta, olive oil, salt and pepper.
-- Add the final layer of noodles, the remaining sauce (make sure to cover all edges of the noodle with the sauce), and top with the mozzarella and a bit of Parmesan if desired. 
-- Put the lid on, and over medium heat, let it get all bubbly. Once it really starts simmering, turn down to medium-low, and give it 20-25 minutes, until the noodles are cooked through. Remove lid, turn off the heat, and give it at least 5 minutes before cutting. 
-- When serving, top with basil and Parmesan cheese. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

SPIN Modern Thai

Way up in Cedar Park, amid the concrete flyovers and strip malls is SPIN Modern Thai, brought to us by veterans of Uchi and East Side King. Like the name suggests, they're putting a twist on traditional Thai food, and fortunately for those of us who are Thai enthusiasts, they are doing a very good job.

So what happens when three food bloggers and a spouse venture far from their South Austin homes in search of good food? And what happens when one of those bloggers who is taking pictures of the front door gets asked (in a friendly, congenial manner) by the host upon entering the establishment "Why are you taking pictures?" and the blogger (NOT me!) blurts out "We're food bloggers!". Well, so much for the sneak attack! We had a good laugh over this, and I think all three of us normally prefer to go to restaurants we are going to blog about "incognito" if you will, so we can judge the food as an ordinary patron. We were not expecting star treatment at SPIN, but the manager sent us his best waiter, and we were very well taken care of the entire meal.

We started with cocktails, in the back, the Thai basil mint white sangria, the tamarind lime mimosa, and pineapple mint sake. I enjoyed my tamarind drink very much, and we all agreed the sake was spectacular.
We started with a trio of appetizers, the fried Brussels sprouts, which were a little under done (still crunchy) and the sweet corn taro tempura with a sweet chili vinaigrette. Great flavor in the vinaigrette, but the tempura was a bit greasy. Also the moo ping, marinated pork with a Thai chili dipping sauce; I could have eaten my weight in these! Nicely grilled pork which had a ton of flavor on its own, but the sauce was a nice compliment to it as well.
For my main dish, I had the Pad Cha Soft Shell Crab, which was crispy soft shell crab with basil, cilantro,  green peppercorns, with a lightly sweet and spicy chili sauce. It was delicious. Such a nice burst of texture and flavor. I Tweeted this photo, and then subsequently showed it to a bunch of foodie friends, including a Thai friend who hasn't been to SPIN. Pretty much they were all drooling.
We also had at the table the Clay Pot Hot Pot with head-on shrimp, glass noodles, bacon, and a raw egg on top that the server mixes into the ceramic pot. There was a wonderful smokiness to the dish; I don't know if that just came from the bacon or if there was anything else giving it that flavor, but it was a savory and wonderful taste.
The Rib Ping, char-grilled pork ribs with a hoisin-like glaze on them. These were three very meaty spare ribs, with a side of balsamic glazed onions. There was a spiciness to the pork that was a little unexpected, as there were no "chile pepper" spiciness indicators on the menu.
And the Tiger Cry, which was asked for with a bit of extra spice, which it had! It's grilled beef sirloin, with cilantro, cherry tomatoes, radishes, onions, and toasted rice powder. I've had this dish at other Thai restaurants before, and this was a very nice approach, especially given the warm weather, more of a salad than a heavier beef dish.
Pretty much stuffed at this point, we were going to pass on dessert, but our very gracious hosts had other ideas in mind. They sent us two of their desserts, a coconut panna cotta with lemon gelee and a trio of ice creams (lychee, Thai tea, and chocolate). I was very impressed that the lychee ice cream ACTUALLY tasted like lychee! It and the Thai tea were my favorites.
I have heard outstanding things from foodies and professional food critics about SPIN in their year they've been open, so I don't think the high quality food or service that we experienced was too far from the norm. Overall an outstanding experience both food and service, and my only regret is that SPIN is in Cedar Park. I don't know when I will get back up there again, but it was absolutely worth the drive.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Bits and Bites

Events and Happenings
-- The Austin Food Blogger Alliance will hold their annual fundraiser, Cocktails and Cupcakes on July 19th from 6 - 9 pm at the Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School at the Domain; proceeds benefit the ARC Capital Area. AFBA member price $25/all others $35, over 21 only please. Sip on libations provided by Treaty Oak Distilling, T1 Tequila, and Hops and Grain. Cocktail themed cupcakes courtesy of Sugar Mama's Bakeshop, SugaPlump Pastries, Swift's Attic, Delish, and Crema Bakery and Cafe. Tickets available for purchase here. (Disclosure: I am a member of the AFBA, and am helping with this event! Come on out!)

-- Austin Cake Ball is having a summer promo: buy one dozen cake balls, get one ball free!

-- Umami Mia Pizzeria is having a pizza eating contest on July 4th at 4 pm. Come HUNGRY!

-- La Condesa is hosting a Herradura Tequila tasting 4-course dinner, July 9th $100/person. Tickets here. Additionally, La Condesa's private lounge space, Malverde will no longer have bar/lounge programs to expand the private event space.

Openings and New Stuff
-- P. Terry's has opened their 7th area location, at 12301 North Mopac, and they hope to have a total of 12 spots by 2015. 

-- Uncle Julio's, a Mexican chain based in Dallas, will open in mid-July at 301 Brazos Street downtown; this is their 17th restaurant and first in Austin. At 9500 square feet, there will be seating for over 400 people.

-- Austin-based chain Johnny Carino's has partnered with Udi's Gluten Free Foods to create a new gluten free menu.  

-- Both locations of Jack Allen's Kitchen are celebrating new whiskey drinks, featuring their own Eagle Rare Single Barrel Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey, selected exclusively by Jack Gilmore himself.

-- Smashburger's milk shake of the summer is peanut butter and jelly, now through the end of September.

-- Justin Rupp is the new Executive Chef at Olive and June, where's he's creating light pasta dishes with seasonal ingredients for the summer.

-- Pasty Chef Taff Mayberry has returned to Olivia

-- PhoNatic is now open in South Park Meadows. 

-- Mettle is now open for lunch. 

-- Barlata, the new Spanish tapas bar from Daniel Olivella, opened last night

Local Publications
-- David Alan's Tipsy Texan: Spirits and Cocktails from the Lone Star State

-- Jarod Neece and Mando Rayo's  Austin Breakfast Tacos: The Story of the Most Important Taco of the Day