Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Trailers and Trends

Austin is fast becoming -- or perhaps already is -- one of the premiere trailer food purveyors. Trailers and food stands are popping up all over the city, offering up a range of options -- Mexican, Asian, Cuban, hot dogs, doughnuts, fancy foods, fusion, and the oh-so-popular (with me) roasted chicken food stand, for starters.

I'm working my way through these mobile marvels, but more often than not, I'm apt to fall back on my favorite: the Mexican taco trailer. These are the original taco stands that dot the east Austin landscape, the ones that have been around for years and years but were discovered by hipsters, college kids and food bloggers in the past 24 months or so. They were cool long before getting your food from a trailer became cool.

Like a lot of Austinites, I first began frequenting these trailers after midnight on the weekends, when the only other options were fast-food joints or Magnolia Cafe. I probably had my first trailer taco in 2005; they were still a novelty, at least to me. I had just moved to my current neighborhood in southeast Austin, and I remember fondly that first plate of mini corn tortillas topped with al pastor pork, fresh cilantro, chopped onion and a squeeze of lime juice and green salsa.

Austin is changing, trends coming and going faster than we can keep up. But I hope these original Mexican food trailers stay frozen in time.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hello, Lovahhh

Meet my latest addiction. It's the Asian Salad from Galaxy Cafe. My coworker introduced me to it yesterday, and I'm already ready to go back for more. More, more, more. She's been going on and on about this salad for weeks now, bragging that she goes at least once or twice a week for it.

I finally understand why.

Though this salad is a bit on the pricey side ($10.49, and an extra buck for the avocado), it has some of the best, freshest ingredients I've come across in an Austin salad. It's the perfect blend of crunchy, salty, tangy, sweet and it happens to feel good for you, too. The tuna is cooked perfectly and the portion size is very generous; it's more than I'd normally pay for lunch but I did feel like I got my money's worth.

Here's what's in it (the photo didn't capture everything): A very fresh spring mix of lettuces, rare seared ahi tuna, avocado, red peppers, edamame, crunchy rice noodles, cucumbers and toasted sesame seeds served with a side of the most addictive sesame soy salad dressing I've ever tried.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Very fine, from Monterrey

A person from Monterrey, Mexico is called a "regiomontano." And all around Austin, small food trailers and outdoor stands are cooking up chicken, Monterrey-style.

We're big fans of "Pollo Regio," a regional chain of Monterrey-style rotisserie chicken stands that includes two very convenient locations: around the corner from Mike's house and a few blocks down the street from mine. You can get a whole chicken, beans, rice, grilled onion, soft corn tortillas and neon green, blow-your-mind-and-make-you-cry hot sauce for about $12. More than enough to feed 3-4 adults.

Last night we stopped at a competitor's trailer, El Norteno, for a bit of comparison shopping. In a taste test, I likely wouldn't be able to spot the difference. We both agreed the Pollo Regio chicken is a little more moist and the rice at El Norteno is fluffier and likely made with more butter. But overall, you get the same deal at the same price and you don't feel too badly about eating this version of 'fast food.' It's quick, inexpensive and beats the hell out of fast food. It was also a great way to treat ourselves after making it to the gym.

*Coincidentally, the word "regio" in Argentina is slang for "fine." And this was indeed some fine-tasting pollo.

Oh, and this photo above? That's only a half-chicken order, sold for a mere $7 and plenty for two.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Good for you

Quinoa. Think vegan. Think healthy. Think not-really-for-me. But we recently cooked up some quinoa with fresh mushrooms thrown right into the rice cooker, and topped it roasted broccoli. A dinner I'm proud of making and eating, especially when able to resist the 10:00 pm cereal bowl that inevitably follows a meal that's so good for you.

It wasn't oustanding, but I think I can learn to love it. Mike spruced it up by using a shrimp stock he made earlier in the week to cook the quinoa. I undersalted everything as usual. And yet, we produced a filling, healthy and inexpensive dinner. I've got to look up other recipes made with this protein-rich grain; I'm committed to making this stuff a lot more often, so I'm going to have to learn how to make it tasty.

*Photos courtesy of Mike. Cross design of Broccoli-on-Quinoa, also courtesy of Mike.

425 until brown

I'm a big fan of roasting vegetables. I don't think there's a tastier, easier way to prepare them. Steaming tastes awful. Sauteeing veggies is a bit better but it often leaves the same steamed effect. Boiling is doubly wrong - lose vitamins and flavor? No, thank you.

Roasting any vegetable at 425 degrees until they're caramelized and brown is the way to go, in my book. You can take any veggie, drizzle it with olive oil and salt (you can fancy it up with pepper and dried spices but it's so. not. necessary.), and pop it in the oven at 425. As I like to tell my roast-impaired friends, when you think it's browned and done, wait another 10 minutes. Then it's done.

We've been on a roasting kick lately. I already knew about the delights of roasted broccoli and cauliflower, asparagus and squashes, tomatoes and eggplant. But kale? Leeks? Bok choi? These are transformed at 425 degrees until brown. We're talking all of the taste and crunch of a potato chip, then add nutritional value and take away the calories.

I'll post pictures soon. But I promise you they won't look nearly as good as they taste. (It's true. The picture of roasted leeks below just doesn't convey the crispety, crunchety, salty goodness created when you put these raw onions in the oven.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fry and stir

I don't know why they call it stir-fry, because, really, you're frying first and stirring second. I know this from first-hand experience.

We threw together a quick one this week, and it was a satisfying dinner after a long walk around Mike's neighborhood. The time just sprung forward, and the weather in Austin has been divine lately. So divine that our 2.5-mile walk felt like 1.5.

This extra hour of daylight is going to lead to all sorts of great things. Hopefully many of them well involve shrimp, fresh veggies, shallots, garlic, ginger, honey, soy sauce and lime juice. Which, coincidentally, was all we needed for this tasty fry-stir.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Stealing Green

Everything about this post is stolen, or at least borrowed, from the photos to the construction of garden beds to the actual purchase of plants. But I'm just so excited about this, I had to throw up a quick post. (I did help with the packing of soil and have provided support via random squeals of enthusiasm.)

Mike's backyard is the epitome of spring these days. He recently built some garden beds, filled them with soil, put down a few plants - can't wait to shop for more this weekend at Natural Gardener! - and though it's only been a few days, I can already taste the chard frittatas and capreses in our future. (OK, fine, so I'll hold my breath on the tomatoes.)

Perhaps once we've had our first salad entirely out of backyard foodstuffs, I'll wax philosophically on the virtues of sustainable living and being more green. But right now, all I can say is, isn't it pretty?

*Photos courtesy of Mike

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

An unlikely pair

In my world and presumably the natural order of the universe, cauliflower and lamb aren't two items that go together. But when I finally sat down to dinner last night, ravenous after a small-ish lunch and one glass of red wine at happy hour, the two made quite an unbeatable combo.

Mike, Stella and I went to Austin's newest farmer's market (Open Sundays! And not until 11:00am!), and the first thing I spotted was purple cauliflower. We grabbed a head of purple and a head of white. (Future note to self: the purple is lovely, but the white won the flavor contest.) That same day, we purchased a couple of lamb shoulder chops at Central Market, and both the cauliflower and the lamb needed to be cooked soon. Together it would have to be.

Sticking with my traditional roasting methods, I drizzed the cauliflower with olive oil and a little salt. No other herbs or spices, not even pepper. They needed a good 20-25 minutes at 500 degrees. They were perfectly caramelized, crunchy in spots, tender without being mushy.

I'd asked Mike to throw the lamb in a baggie with rosemary, olive oil, salt and garlic while he was home for lunch. He forgot the rosemary, but we didn't miss it terribly. (Ideally, there'd have been rosemary and fresh lemon juice. Next time.) I seared the lamb in a cast iron skillet on high, until the garlic chips were crispy (read: burned).

The resulting dish was good -- and gone in a few short minutes. This unlikely duo will be seeing more of each other in the future, I'm sure of it.

*Photo courtesy of Mike.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

5 A Day

I must've had 5-6 servings of veggies yesterday, so I'm putting my roasted tomatoes in the 'fruit' category in order to maintain balance.

After an embarassing kolache-and-donut-hole morning -- on the day I was to start a low-carb diet, no less! -- I made a respectable comeback with an endive/spinach salad for lunch and sauteed green beans and roasted tomatoes for dinner. The miniature Almond Joy and four bites of potato were fair enough treats; I still went to bed hungry.

I'm going to have to search for tips on how to properly roast tomatoes without taking two hours a la Barefoot Contessa. I know the key is to roast for two hours, but I just don't have that kind of time when I get home, hungry, at 7:00.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Austin Restaurant Week: Jeffrey's

I couldn't bring myself to whip out the iPhone for pictures of our plates at Jeffrey's. And that is such a shame.

For years, I've been curious about the unassuming corner restaurant in Clarksville, one of those enviably charming, pricey neighborhoods I'll always dream of owning a home in. My best friend and her husband go to Jeffrey's every year for their anniversary. Parents take their kids to Jeffrey's for college graduation dinners. Guys go there to pop the question. It's the gold standard of Austin restaurants.

I've let a full week pass since our dinner, but I can still recall the two stand-out dishes: seared lighthouse scallops and braised short ribs.

The scallops were plated with scattered leaves of roasted brussel sprouts (which, over time, I'll no doubt establish on this blog as my all-time favorite vegetable for roasting) and an unidentifiable starch we learned was daikon. To the best of my knowledge, it was my first time eating daikon. And as we embark on a low-carb lifestyle, we are making way for the introduction of more starchy vegetables -- which means I'm adding daikon to the list ASAP. I can only hope to make it this good, because Jeffrey's daikon was ... perfection. I was sure I was eating little cylindrical pieces of sauteed potatoes. Mike's guess was parsnip. How wrong we both were; how enlightened we became.

Here's the thing about the short ribs. The very thing that might turn some people off is the reason I will go back just to order these again: they tasted like liver. Yep. The dry-aged ribs with horseradish creme and little pommes Dauphine (think hollow hush puppies) were melt-in-your-mouth delectable, but there was an unmistakable liver flavor. I'm the only person in my age range who will go to Luby's just for the liver and onions. Mike knows this, and when he took the first bite, he knew I'd be enforcing our previously agreed upon strategy of sharing the appetizers. Suffice it to say, the three perfectly seared cubes of short ribs (ironically served without actual ribs) were not nearly enough, especially when divided by two.

My chocolate 'intemperance' dessert was forgettable (too much mousse, not enough flourless cake), but Mike's Crescent City Beignets with Malted Milk Vanilla Ice Cream Affogato was TDF. (To. Die. For.) Affogato is Italian for "drowned", and typically refers to a coffee-based beverage or dessert. When our waitress brought out the ice cream and beignets, she drowned them in a chocolate-espresso sauce. Like I said, TDF.

The new Jeffrey's chef hails from NOLA, and I don't know how the regulars feel about it, but I appreciated the Louisiana spin on both Mike's dessert and the crispy oyster appetizer we also shared. How can you go wrong with a New Orleans chef?

(Mike, if you're reading, it's time to book our three-day weekend.)

Austin Restaurant Week: Jasper's

What can I say? I blame Bon Appetit as much as I blame Jasper's. I'm no expert on BBQ, but their baby back ribs cannot possibly be the third-best in the nation. I don't think they'd rank in the top 30, for that matter.

Ribs aside, our Jasper's experience was lovely. The company was delightful - Mike and I joined my sister and a few of her friends I'd yet to meet - and everything was scrumptuous. The ribs were my least favorite, but it's not as if I'd turn down a rack.

Mike and I went 50-50 on the ribs with a side of cheesy, creamy potatoes and the perfectly cooked pork tenderloin with bourbon creamed corn (yum!). My shrimp and grits appetizer made me re-think my previous opinions on grits, and Ally's calamari was among the best I've had. Desserts were good, though the dulce de leche-filled chocolate cake wasn't warm enough to be deserving of a 'molten' label. Perhaps the most popular dessert was a marshmallow creme-cookie-ice cream concoction we sampled off Ally's plate. Both Mike and one of my sister's friends regretted their choice of berries and creme; though the berries were fresh, the creme was unexpectedly liquid and the presentation was dull in comparison to the other dessert concoctions.

Overall, I enjoyed our Restaurant Week experience. Jasper's does food well, the venue is cozy, and in the past, I've enjoyed the food and prices on their daily happy hour menu. But I don't think I'll be rushing back for a regular meal at their regular prices anytime soon.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

White Wedding

This beautiful tart caught my eye a few weeks ago as I was browsing my favorite foodie blogs. I thought about making it for a visit from my mom, but she hates cheesecake and this recipe looked pretty close to one.

So I waited for another appropriate occasion to test it out: my friend Debbie's bridal shower. Our mutual friends, her hostesses, outdid themselves with beautiful, feminine touches throughout the house. (I'm waiting for Huebscher to post photos of her own.) I was happy to contribute a dessert to go on a tableful of amazing sweets from around Austin. Every detail of this shower was thoughtfully executed. From the homemade passion fruit soda labels to the lemony madelines sent home with guests, this was a bride-to-be's dream come true.

As for the tart, it was good. Rich. Creamy. Dense. Not too sweet. Possibly, though, a bit too rich and a bit too dense. Didn't stop me from enjoying an entire slice. The crust was divine, though the flax seed added a slightly 'off' flavor that I'd do without in the future. I also couldn't find hazelnuts at the local Sprouts, so I added more walnuts and almonds to compensate.

P.S. Huebscher, if you're reading this, I want the madelines recipe!