Thursday, February 25, 2010

Austin Restaurant Week, Updated

We have now also committed to dinner on Sunday with my sister, her friends and our roommate. The restaurant: Jasper's.

I wasn't thrilled when Lil' Sis brought it up. I've been to Jasper's only once, and it was good. Great, even. But I like to think of ARW as a time to try places you've never been to, always wanted to try, or can't afford to go to regularly.

I just pulled up the Jasper's ARW menu to see what we'd gotten ourselves into. And all I can say is, HOLY CRAP, LIL' SIS! I can't wait to try this stuff.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Arroz Con Leche is a melody, too

I didn't grow up eating a ton of Arroz Con Leche, but both my mom and grandmother raised me on the song. I was raised on version #3, and it has been burned on my brain since I was a very little girl:

Arroz con leche me quiero casar
con una señorita de San Nicolás
Que sepa coser
Que sepa bordar
Que sepa habrir la puerta para ir a jugar

Con ésta sí
con ésta no
con esta señorita me caso yo!


Rice pudding I want to be married
To a young lady from San Nicolas
Who knows how to sew
Who knows how to knit
Who knows how to open the door to go out to play

This one I will
This one I won't
This young lady will I marry (soon).

In retrospect, the lyrics are ridiculous. They just sound better in Spanish. (You'll have to take my word for it.)

Last night I made Arroz con Leche (rice pudding) for the very first time. I followed the recipe I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, using whole organic goat milk instead of cow's milk. I halved the recipe, and therefore I was sure I could shave a few minutes off of the cooking time. Not the case. I sampled it after about 40 minutes, and then kept stirring for another 20. After a full hour, the arroz con leche was perfect. Smooth, creamy, comforting on a cold Tuesday night.

I cannot wait to make it again.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Q: What Rhymes with Snow?

Din Ho!

It's snowing in Austin today. My office and at least some schools and state agencies (read = Mike's office) shut down around noon. I immediately emailed Mike to tell him I had the afternoon off, and he suggested we meet for Chinese food. We don't often get together for lunch since we work on opposite ends of town, so this combination of lunch with Mike + snow day + Chinese food made for a very rare triple treat.

Din Ho is one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in town. I've celebrated a couple of birthdays there, and it's the restaurant where Mike first met my parents. I love the Peking Duck, the roast BBQ pork, the soups, the noodles. Even their fortune cookies seem to taste better.

Today, we agreed on two main dishes + a vegetable to split between the two of us. Below: Pepper steak and flat noodles in black bean sauce with sauteed Chinese broccoli. Not pictured: the all-too-quickly devoured combination BBQ pork/duck over white rice.

After lunch, there was only one thing to do. Head to Mike's for video games, movies and, of course, that work we were going to do from home!

(Yes. This is enough snow to cause half the city of Austin, Texas to shut down. Suck it, Yankees!)

Kitchen Sink Frittata

Most frittatas are a bit kitchen sink-y, aren't they? Just about anything goes - and last night, anything did.

We got back from a far too short visit to the gym and threw together our farmer's market eggs, leftover cooked spinach, onions, leftover chicken from Mike's lunch, a random zuchinni, and then threw on a few heaping handfuls of more fresh spinach.

Hopefully the pictures are clear enough to spot the difference between the cooked and uncooked versions.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Austin Restaurant Week

I've lived in Austin for roughly 16 years and have never been to the acclaimed institution that is Jeffrey's.

All of that changes next week. I just made a reservation -- $35 for three courses. Here's to celebrating Texas' Indpendence Day with crispy oysters, seared sea scallops and flourless chocolate cake!

An Austin Weekend

This weekend was just the right amount of everything - down time, social time, sunshine, time in the kitchen, time spent outdoors, lounging time.

We kicked it off slowly with a movie at home Friday night, allowing us to manage a farmer's market appearance at a respectable 10:00am (early enough to get in on some of the goods that tend to disappear first). Armed with $50 worth of greens and proteins (pork belly! eggs!), we headed to Antonelli's, Austin's newest - only? - cheese shop in Hyde Park. I'd say I went a little nuts, because I know Mike will read this, but the truth is, I showed tremendous restraint. We sampled only 4 cheeses and purchased 3 of them. Three very remarkable, very distinct cheeses - a creme fraiche, a Bianco Sardo (parmesan meets gruyere), and a Winnimeire. I walked in and immediately asked for a triple-cream brie; the Winnimeire is a cow's milk cheese, just as gooey and soft as brie but with a tangy bite.

After some tennis and napping, we made dinner before going out to a show. The newly purchased Bianco Sardo offered an opportunity to make pasta -- the pasta I'd been wanting to make since it first appeared here. Our homemade pasta turned out a little too thin to duplicate Smitten's recipe successfully, yet despite some clumping and sticking to the pan, it tasted just fine. Perfectly paired with local spinach, wilted under caramelized onions and generous amounts of garlic. (I was too hungry to remember to take a picture of the plated pasta with spinach. Bad blogger!) While the recipe says the pepper and parmesan are surprisingly sufficient in bringing flavor to the pasta, I believe I improved mine with a squirt of lemon and some red pepper flakes.

A Sunday birthday brunch led to a massive sugar high, tempered by some time in the sun and a couple of glasses of water.

Sunday evening, we ventured into the unknown: The Land of Amberjack Fish.
Taking the fishmonger's advice, we sauteed the fish on medium-low heat in the cast iron skillet with only garlic, butter and oil. The only thing we added was a pinch of salt and fresh lemon once it was on the plate. It was meaty yet tender; substantial yet light. I'm already an Amberjack convert, and I hope to try this fish again soon, perhaps in a marinade and adding a couple of minutes under the broiler. The fish went well with roasted baby brussel sprouts, also procured at the farmer's market. The perfect finish to a perfect weekend.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Smothered Pork Chops

I defrosted a few pork chops for dinner last night, but I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them. I spotted a large yellow onion in the bowl of assorted fruits on the counter; it was still in good shape despite the fact that it had been there a while. So I've got some pork chops and an onion. Now what?

A quick search for caramelized onion and pork chops led me to this recipe, which frankly couldn't have been any easier. I paired my chops with some fresh greens and a homemade dressing my roommate says I need to bottle and sell. It's a very basic lemon+soy+oil vinaigrette with a few twists of the pepper mill. No need for salt as the soy brings plenty of MSG.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mini Burgers. Massive Taste.

My coworker asked us to go to Phil's Ice House for her birthday lunch.

If I have eaten at Phil's before today, I don't remember. It's next door to the overrated Amy's Ice Cream, which tends to be overpriced and overrun with sticky kids. (Even their web site gives me a headache.) There isn't anything terribly special about Phil's; it's a typical burger-and-fries diner-style establishment, replete with giant hand-written menus on chalkboard and an old-fashioned photo booth.

Maybe they've switched food suppliers since my last visit. Maybe I wasn't paying attention when I was previously there. Or maybe, just maybe, I only think I've been there before. Because today's lunch was pretty memorable. A mini burger sampler (all served on sweet kolache bread), a sweet potato/regular potato fry combo and a soda -- not the kind of meal you'd have when you're supposed to be *cough* dieting *cough*, but my coworker's and I agree Phil's rivals some of Austin's most notorious burger joints.

I suspect I'll make my way back, and maybe next time I'll save room for ice cream.

Valley Tacos. Unrivaled.

There are many, many things I love about going to south Texas to visit my family. Watching old movies with my mom, arguing with my dad about his health, visiting my grandmother and helping her with anything she needs around the house.

But just after quality time with friends and family, the list turns to food.

I have my favorites - Kumori for sushi, Taco Palenque for the egg/potato/chorizo on flour (night or day), and my parents' kitchen for everything from pizza to marinated skirt steak.

On this most recent trip, I ventured outside my usual stops to accommodate coworkers and schedules. Most of them aren't worth writing home about, save these tripe and sweetbread tacos from a dive called La Taqueria near the airport in Harlingen. At $4.50 for 6, they're almost worth the roundtrip from McAllen.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Warm Thoughts

It's cold in Austin today. I'm about to head 5 hours south, where the temperature will be about 10 degrees higher. Which means I'll probably still be cold.

I'm spending a few days with my parents, going down for work but staying through the weekend to see the rest of my family. Mike's joining me on Friday. And I think I found the perfect winter treat for all of us to enjoy when he gets there.

Butter + Flour + Sugar + Berries = Love

I'm only 6 posts in, and already 30% of my home-cooking is Smitten-inspired.

Last night after the mildly successful attempt at glass noodles, I found I had all of the ingredients for a dessert that we could also have for breakfast: blueberry crumb bars. (In all fairness, I'd been eyeing these for a while, so I only happened to have the ingredients because I happened to pick up a few pints of blueberries at Whole Foods late last week -- just in case.)

Since I'm leaving town today, last night was my only real opportunity to make these little beauties. I forgot to capture both the noodles and the crumb bars last night on camera. Fortunately, I brought leftovers of both to work today.

I remembered to take a picture before I completely devoured my crumb bar. Hope I do better at lunchtime.

Thai Cooking with Jam

I'm not referring to making Thai food with fruit preserves. Jam is the owner of Austin's Thai Fresh, hands-down my favorite place for the freshest, highest quality bowl of curry or noodles in town.

For the holidays, Mike and I agreed on a no-gifts policy. The only exception would be taking Jam's cooking class together. (We were inspired after sampling some leftovers Huebscher was kind enough to share after her own cooking class with Jam.)

We chose an all-noodle class and finally went a couple of weeks ago. We were taught how to make four types of noodles, each one better than the previous, and decided we needed to make the dishes we loved before we forgot everything we learned in class. So this weekend, after lunch at Asia Cafe, we walked next door to the Asian market to stock up on fish sauce, soy sauce (dark and light), Thai chilies and various types of noodles.

Last night's first attempt at Yum Woon Sen was pretty good, but there are a few things I need to remember for next time.

First, boil the noodles for longer. And drain them a bit better. (They were slightly al dente, and they needed a lot more time to drain after being shocked in a big, icy bowl of water.)

Second, use shrimp and pork. I didn't want to spend a small fortune since I was cooking for four, so I only used pork, and the pork on hand wasn't as finely ground as Jam's (I blame the quality on Mike's neighborhood grocery store and its lack of options). Ideally, I'd use meat from the farmer's market or at least a pricier organic meat next time.

Third, don't forget the cilantro!

*Photos courtesy of Mike. Top photo: our noodles, plated. Just above, from left, Pad See Ew, Pad Thai and Drunken Noodles.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Just like Mom's

My friend Elise introduced us to Asia Cafe about six months ago. It's in northwest Austin -- on the exact opposite end of town for this southeast resident -- and it's worth the drive, especially if you've got a group you can carpool with. And you'll want to go with a group.

This Sunday, a group of 9 met up for lunch. Huebscher and B were there, too. This was my third or fourth time to Asia Cafe (each time I've gone with a group of 6 or more), and I've finally nailed down a few of my favorites.

Pork fried rice. Sounds simple enough, and theirs is just that. Not too browned from soy sauce, their rice is almost crispy, salty, oily and just about the best I've ever had. You won't find peas and carrots here; just a bit of green onion and some tender pork.

Eggplant in brown sauce. I don't know what it's actually called, but it's also about the best eggplant I've ever had. The brown sauce is about the best brown sauce I've ever had. That's all you need to know.

Beef noodle soup. This is a must-have for Elise's significant other, Matty, and I finally learned why. You'll find a lovely broth - not too salty, a little hot and tangy - with a generous heaping bowlful of noodles, tender beef and some greens to make you feel good about eating it. A new favorite.

Dumplings! This past trip was my first time to sample the dumplings. I'm a dumpling lover, and these are now among my favorite in town.

Elise loves Asia Cafe, saying it's the closest she can get to her mom's Chinese cooking here in Austin. I'm no expert, but this place definitely rivals my previous favorite, Din Ho, where I've spent more than one Christmas surrounded by some of Austin's finest Jews, and where my dad likes to go for Peking Duck when he's in town.

I'm looking forward to the traditional Chinese dinner we'll have in Amsterdam this May. Mike and I are going for Elise and Matt's wedding, and we were told this past Sunday that the 11-course rehearsal dinner just got adjusted to include 14 courses! You can bet I'll be blogging about that.

*Thanks to Mike for the before & after photos.

Baby's First Risotto

Okay, so this was more like my fourth risotto. But each attempt yields more or less the same results. It's edible enough, even good. But it's not great. There's no 'wow' factor. My rice is too al dente, the overall effect not as creamy as I think it needs to be.

I followed a recipe from my favorite food blog; you'll see this blog come up again and again. Deb is one of my food blogger heroes. I left out the artichoke because 1) that was the most time-intensive portion of the dish and 2) I'm just not a huge fan of the artichoke unless I'm dipping it in butter or eating it mashed up in a creamy dip.

There are two things I'd have done differently. First, I'd have roasted my asparagus in the oven -- I *hate* boiling asparagus, and I should have followed my instincts. It never comes out crisp once you've killed it in boiling water, and I've yet to find a time or place when I'd prefer my asparagus any other way than roasted at a very high temp with a drizzle of olive oil. Second, I'd have added another cup of chicken stock (I used low sodium, and I can't tell the difference). I felt like the rice could have used a bit more cooking, but I had no simmering broth left and hoped it would continue to cook further if I immediately took it out of the pot and boxed it up in Tupperware. No such luck. Third -- I guess three things I'd do differently -- I might double the amount of onion next time. Because I have never, ever protested extra onion in any dish ever, as long as it's crispy, oily, salted just right.

I'll try this recipe again, but I can't say I'll be in a huge rush. There are too many other risottos to attempt, including this one.

(Editor's note: A fourth and obvious alteration would be the use of homemade chicken stock. Which I intend to make sometime soon!)

Hole in the Wall

I visited the Hole in the Wall a number of times in college, as it's right across the street from the Communications building at the University of Texas, where I spent many evenings toiling in the basement to help put out the campus newspaper, The Daily Texan.

Back then, it was a true hole in the wall, and the only food to be found was a jar of pickled eggs on the counter. They looked like something out of a science laboratory. The Hole in the Wall was many things, but never a place for fine dining.

Fast forward more than a dozen years, and the Hole has expanded to include a rather spacious outdoor seating area and a kitchen. Last night after a documentary screening, we headed over for a drink, and when Emily asked for the menu, I wanted to squeal with delight. I'd forgotten they had food!

I didn't get to sample much. My own order of al pastor 'mini tacos' was a good deal at 5 for $7, well seasoned and with all the traditional fixin's of onion, cilantro and something sweet that I hope was pineapple (it's dark in there), served with a green salsa that, for me, is imperative with al pastor tacos. I also tried a fried pickle off someone else's place. Mike and I agreed there was too much pickle for the breading but it was still very flavorful.

Because the Hole is dark, I couldn't inspect my food as I'm wont to do (it was certainly too dark to take photos of my mini tacos), but I'm pretty sure I spotted sesame seeds in the pickle coating. On the menu, you'll find a la carte tacos at $3.25 apiece; Mike said his chorizo taco was simple but good. I also spied a chips-and-queso plate being served to a nearby table, and some guy at the bar suggested trying their baked potato.

There seems to be a good little mix of offerings, and since I'll be back to the Hole time and again, it's good to know I can get a decent snack while I'm there.

Another Austin Food Blog?

I love to eat, I love to cook, and I love trying out new restaurants. I love talking about eating, cooking and trying new restaurants. So why not create a blog where I can do just that?

I know, I know. It's February 2010. There are now dozens (hundreds?) of food bloggers in Austin. So what's one more?