Tuesday, June 29, 2010


It's not that I don't love a good cannoli. I do.

But, on the whole, I'm a steak-and-potatoes gal more than I am a sweets kind of gal. Ice cream doesn't do much for me, and pastries have to be pretty damn good for me to choose them over something savory. (I do lose all self-control around donuts and beignets.)

Now. Brunetti's in Melbourne's Italian neighborhood is, I have no doubt, an oustanding place for dessert. And I was drooling at the artwork behind their glass cases. But when it came right down to it, only one of our six samplings was worth writing home. It was the Baba Rum - the dessert I was least expecting to enjoy. (Mike picked it out.)

We tried six desserts because Brunetti's has miniature offerings on one end of the store, and I will go ahead and grant them that miniatures never tend to be as good as a full-sized plate of the same thing. Don't ask me why; I've often found this to be the case.

Still. Here are the photos. They're fabulous, but I think the pictures look better than the desserts tasted. (The coffee, on the other hand ... divine!)

Sichuan House, Part II

Our first lunch at Sichuan House in Melbourne ran just over $50. And while it was worth every penny, we tried to be a bit more conservative on our second visit.

We'd already tried the most popular chef's special (spicy cumin pork ribs) and an out-there dish (sliced pigs ears), so we went with a couple of more common choices. (More 'common,' perhaps. But equally outstanding.)

The Ants Climbing Trees is a jumbled mass of thin, pan-fried rice noodles beautifully seasoned (HEAT, baby!) and dotted with bits of scallion, chilies and ground pork that looked like ants climbing all over the slippery translucent noodles. I can't recall flavors and details (sadly, this post has taken me a month) ... but I do recall the love I had for this dish.

Where, oh, where can you find food like this in the U.S.? I have no idea, but I'll start in San Francisco's Chinatown when we're there in August.

Our second choice, the Mapo Tofu, is one of our favorite dishes at Asia Cafe in Austin. After thoughtful analysis, we both agreed Asia Cafe's Mapo is a worthy rival to the Sichuan House Mapo. (If anything, I'm favoring Asia Cafe. Because on this second visit to Sichuan, I once again bit into an unsavory black bit of anise - or something equally offensive - that overpowered my taste buds and had me begging the waitress for a Diet Coke to wash away the flavor.)

That unsavory bit wasn't enough to keep me from dreaming about future visits to Melbourne and to Sichuan House. (Oh, and our second lunch was $27 with tip.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Thomas Keller Night

I was home the week before Father's Day visiting my parents, so on the actual day of dads, I was back in Austin.

We'd set aside Sunday, June 20 for our Thomas Keller dinner night with friends, and unfortunately, Mike and I also waited until the morning of Sunday, June 20 to get prepared. (An invitation that Saturday to spend the afternoon at a friend's lake-adjacent cabin in Wimberley was just too good to pass up.)

We skipped about half the steps required to make a proper artichoke ravioli and striped bass -- there was no homemade, oft-strained broth, there was no emulsified butter, no real artichoke brugole (stew). In fact, we didn't have broth at all. And the stew recipe - from which you were to extract the artichoke filling - was so complex that we took the required ingredients, sauteed them together and threw 'em in the food processor for our filling. Measurements were 'eyeballed' and, as I said repeatedly, Thomas Keller would have been ashamed.

Despite all of that, our efforts yielded a tasty piece of fish and an edible ravioli. Edible mostly because we undercooked the pasta; I believe if we'd boiled it longer or chosen a thinner setting, it would have come out so much better. (And, I can say this with certainty because just this evening, Mike attempted ravioli again and it was spectacular! We took some of the veggies we had laying around for the filling and ended up with a sweet potato-onion-zuchinni ravioli topped with Antonelli's Bianco Sardo cheese and a little butter.)

There is so much more to say about our Thomas Keller dinner, but now's not the time as I'm headed home tomorrow with my lil' sis to visit our father in the hospital.

Instead, I'll post photos of Adam and Jodi's homemade mozzarella with a caprese mix and basil cream, of Nelson's duck confit with a lemon brussel sprouts cream sauce, of Ally's creme caramels, and of our dish.

In addition to some lovely company, the evening was a fete accompli for all. Even us cheaters.

Friday, June 18, 2010

iMiss my iPhone

I lost my iPhone on the plane between Melbourne and New Zealand, and I could not bring myself to pay $399 for the same phone that three months prior had cost me $199(not to mention the additonal cost of the warranty, which doesn't - of course - cover lost and stolen phones).

So I told AT&T to shove it, and I purchased a $30 phone with no data plan to keep me going until I'm eligible for an upgrade, which means the privilege of that $199 'discount.' (I have to say I'm rather enjoying the bit of disengagement. But I miss the photo capabilities.)

My $30 Samsung turns out dark and blurry photos. The quality is so very poor that I can't bring myself to expose my few beloved readers to such crap photos. They're a disservice to you and, trust me, they're even a disservice to a plate of pasta.

Expect some pics of the weekend, on Mike's trusty point and shoot, as our long-awaited Thomas Keller Tribute Night takes place this Sunday evening. We're hosting my former neighbors (who will cook out of TK's Bouchon), my new neighbors (who will cook out of Ad Hoc), and my sis and our Austin stand-in brother (also cooking out of Bouchon). Mike and I will be cooking out of French Laundry -- and possibly, fingers crossed, dining there in September!

Our task this Sunday involves shopping for and producing a hopefully edible artichoke ravioli and striped bass entree. Wish us luck!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Chop, Chop, Vino, Vino

A little over a month ago, I chopped off seven inches of hair and celebrated with a very happy couple of hours. My hair stylist Sandra is also my friend, and we'd made plans to meet up with Jill after my appointment.

Jill, Sandra and I were all part of a small group of Austinites on the same trip to Israel in the spring of '08. I'd known Jill long before the trip, but it was there that we got to know Sandra - a Jewish convert with Baptist, West Texas roots. When the three of us get together, there's always too much to say and not nearly enough time; this happy hour was no different. Though there was more ooohing and aaahing over the food.

We'd agreed to meet at Vino Vino -- a wine bar just north of the UT campus with exceptional happy hour food (and equally exceptional prices).

Though it's been several weeks, I remember the conversation and the appetizers fondly. I especially remember my $4 beet salad (normally priced at $8) because ... I don't like beets. But I loved this salad.

It was probably that the beets were masked by some of my favorite foods -- arugula, pistachios, grapefruit segments, avocado chunks and a dressing that managed to be both subtle and tangy at the same time.

A salad that unexpected (read: mindblowing) is hard to top, but Vino Vino did top it with a multitude of $4 and $5 apps including the following: plump jumbo shrimp dripping in garlic and chili oil, meaty pork ribs with spring onions and honey, and mussels in white wine and tarragon sauce coupled with frites and aioli.

I remember coming home that night and showing Mike the pictures of our happy hour. When he saw these olives* with orange zest, he suggested they might make a great color palette for the living room as we begin to redecorate. My future husband has fine taste.

*And I don't even like olives!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mmmeat Pie

You know how you eat something, and it's amazing, and then you try it again somewhere else, made some other way, and it's never quite the same, and you know it might never be that good again?

I had only two meat pies while in Australia. That was about the right amount of meat pies to be consumed over a two-week vacation, I suppose. Fact is, I expected to consume more than two, but the first meat pie I tried was of such exceptional quality that I all but avoided other meat pies for the rest of our trip.

It was our first day in Australia, and we'd gone to pick up the nephews after class. On the way to the train station, we stopped to pick up fruits, veggies and meats from the butcher. We made our way to the station, but the kids had hunger pangs, so we popped into a cafe just around the corner from the rail line.

I said I didn't want my own meat pie, that I was tired and would sit outside and wait. I wasn't about to ruin my appetite for dinner or appear like the food-obsessed woman that I am within hours of our arrival, no sir.

But when I saw the boys devouring theirs, I immediately regretted my decision.

So I shared one with Mike. And I immediately regretted my decision. (On the sharing bit.)

Meat pies are truly a genius concept, and I've been meaning to do some research. Why aren't they available here in the States? Have Australia meat pie makers attempted and failed to win the hearts of Americans in the past? Am I, at 37, too young to have missed a meat pie movement? Why aren't they a staple of the already terrifying American diet?

Let's deconstruct: you've got flaky, buttery pastry-like dough (pretty fantastic, right?) that's substantial enough to withstand being stuffed with sauteed mushrooms and quality ground beef (come on). Sprinkle on some poppyseeds, a little catsup if you're into that sort of thing ... What's not to love?

But say you don't like mushrooms. Or you're a a vegetarian. That's all right. The ingredients found within the meat pie tend to vary. You can really mix 'em up, get jiggy with your meat pie. Mike recalls some sort of green curry and scallop pie from a previous trip; we weren't able to find anything of the sort this time though not for lack of trying. I saw so many varieties at the Victoria Market (or Vic Market, as the locals say). Veggie meat pies, potato and meat meat pies, chicken, cheese, fish, ham, salami, proscuitto ... you see where I'm going with this.

Our second meat pie was the Four 'N Twenty, Australia's most popular brand, consumed at an Australia Rules Football match. It wasn't as good as The First Day Meat Pie. But that's okay. If I learned anything on this trip to Australia it's that a mediocre meat pie is still a damn fine meat pie.