Taste of Austin 2010- Review

2010-01-27_20.23 TASTE OF AUSTIN GARRIDOLooks like tomatoes on top of a mini nacho but that is watermelon.  Slow cooked pork on top of goat cheese with pepitas and a spicy piquant watermelon sauce was Gariddo’s little bite at Taste of Austin last night.  It was crunchy and creamy with a touch of heat and the slightly sweet notes from the watermelon.  I was all set to name this the best bite of the night.  http://www.garridosaustin.com/menu/ 

2010-01-27_20.26 TASTE OF AUSTINAnd then I tried this.  Green chile mac from Moonshine.  Grilled chicken, corn relish, and a green chile cream.  Warm, spicy, creamy comfort in a cup with a sweet crunch of corn.  I loved them both and declare a tie.  http://www.moonshinegrill.com/menus.php


I had a great time at Taste of Austin last night at the Palmer Events Center last night.  Around 50 restaurants participated in this scholarship fundraiser.  It is a fun way to try both new restaurants and old favorites in one location as well as socializing with your fellow foodies. 

I have been debating since last night if I should also post the worst bites at the event.  There was a crunchy risotto, bland bangers and mash, and a cold, mushy stuffed mushroom from a place that was advertising their catering services.  Serving from a small booth at a tasting event is a far different animal than serving from your own kitchen so I am inclined to cut some slack to those that showed poorly but if you are there to plug your catering services, you need to figure out how to serve a hot hors douvres.  I have decided to hold my tongue for now.  A restaurant deserves a fair review over several visits, especially if you are going to publish something negative.  But please, veal osso bucco should not taste like it has barbecue sauce on it.  You know who you are.

Back to the good!  One of my favorite cookie places in town is Kevin’s Cookies.  http://www.kevinscookies.com/  Trey and his adorable wife Jen run this little operation.  They now only have a location south, so I don’t make it over there much but Trey sends out a great newsletter that makes me feel like part of the family.  Last night they had half a dozen different varieties of their delicious cookies.  Crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle, and full of chips, nuts, etc.  My favorite last night was probably the white chocolate chip.  And I hate white “chocolate”.  I believe the darker the chocolate, the better.  But these gems were delicious. 

Spec’s had a booth and I <3 Spec’s!  http://www.specsonline.com/  Very knowledgeable wine staff, great prices on wine and liquor, and a decent assortment of gourmet goodies.  Some of the stores have a bigger selection than others.  I frequent the one at Arbor Walk which also has a deli case but I hadn’t gotten around to trying it yet.  I am pretty picky about my sandwiches, so when I got the sample from them, I thought, “Turkey on white, just another sandwich.”  But it was really good.  Fresh bread with very flavorful turkey.  If they do that well on a little sample for the masses, I will be trying them in store soon.

I recently had Craigo’s pizza for the first time and was impressed.  http://www.craigospizzaandpasta.com/  Last night they were serving pasta.  There was an ok lasagna that had a little too much fennel for my tastes but they also had a spinach ziti that I believe was vegetarian and it was yummy. 

One of the most exotic offerings came from Frank, the “purveyor of artisan sausage” at Fourth and Colorado.  http://www.hotdogscoldbeer.com/ That is  tony talk for $7 hot dog.  Last night they were offering the Jackelope- antelope and rabbit sausage with a huckleberry compote, siracha aioli, and applewood smoked cheese.  Good, different, innovative-  yes.  Worth $7 a hot dog?  Not so sure but I was intrigued enough to want to at least check out the happy hour sometime soon.  

There was a classmate of mine from culinary school passing out little bundt cakes from franchise outfit Nothing Bundt Cakes.  http://www.nothingbundtcakes.com/index.php For something ever so slightly different from a cupcake, these cute little cakes were moist and rich with a bit of cream cheesy icing.   

There were a few places I did not get to try because the lines were way too long.  I tasted the sushi from Piranha Killer Sushi at La Dolce Vita this year and really liked it but the line only got longer last night as the evening wore on.  What is really frustrating is when you see a full tray of food at the head of the line and people obliviously standing there and grazing like there aren’t 50 people behind them in line.  Move it, people!!!!!

Taste of Austin is usually my first big foodie event of the year.  It signals the beginning of my favorite time in Austin, spring means festival season!  Before you know it, Austin Restaurant Week http://restaurantweekaustin.com/ will be here.  Then my personal favorite, Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Fest! http://www.texaswineandfood.org/  You can buy discounted tickets for the Sunday Fair now for $25 (reg $45) through this link.  http://twff.frontgatesolutions.com/choose.php?b=1&lid=39935&eid=46543  Price good only till February 1.

Zuppa Toscana

zuppa toscanaI am a champion for all things local for many reasons.  I believe it is better for the environment, tastes better, and helps the local economy.  I try to shop local, drink local, and eat local.  But I do have a guilty secret.  I LOVE the Zuppa Toscana from Olive Garden. 

There are many better Italian restaurants in Austin (Vespaio, Mandola’s, etc.) but no place serves this particular soup.  Probably because it is more traditionally a Portuguese soup than Tuscan.  Olive Garden is about as “authentic” as Taco Bell but in this cold weather, nothing satisfies like a big bowl full of potatoes, sausage, and kale. 

I am pleased to report that I no longer have to stoop to wearing a disguise because I am too embarrassed to dine at Olive Garden to get my Zuppa Toscana fix.  I adapted this from various sources of copycat recipes.  I wanted to print my own version so all the friends I have made this for can make it themselves as well as trying to liberate others from the tyranny of below average ethnic foods being  served up by corporate chains. 

¡Viva la Revolución!

Zuppa Toscana

  • 3-4 slices pancetta (bacon is an acceptable substitute, canned bacon bits ARE NOT)
  • 1 pound Italian sausage-  I find that the HEB store brand of mild sausage matches EXACTLY the taste of the Olive Garden but you are welcome to use hot or whatever brand you prefer.  It does need to be Italian sausage, though, as the fennel plays an important part in the final product.
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced-  many of the copycat recipes call for onion or some garlic.  This is an ok substitute but the shallot flavor is also essential if you are trying to match the flavors exactly.
  • 2-3 pounds of small white potatoes-  actually any potato you have on hand will work here but it sure is easier slicing the small ones into disks, skin on.
  • 3 cans chicken broth-  yes, you are a kitchen god/goddess if you make your own weekly from locally sourced chickens but the canned stuff works fine
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 bunch Kale-  remove the large stem in the middle, clean leaves thoroughly, roll into a tight cigar-like bundle and slice about 1/8 of an inch wide strips-  Swiss chard is also an acceptable substitute.
  • 1/2 cup milk-  you can use cream, half and half, even skim-  the higher the fat, the better it tastes but I use 2% milk and it saves a ton of calories.
  • 1/2 pound parmesano reggiano-  what you really want is the rind off the cheese to flavor the soup and shaved bits of cheese to garnish.  This is way more cheese than you will need for the soup but chef deserves a treat, so keep some back for “quality control”.  And no, the crap in a green shaker container or anything similar is NOT acceptable.
  • salt and pepper to taste

Remove sausage from casing.  Lots of the recipes I saw called for the sausage to be cooked in the oven or cooked in its casings and then removed.  WRONG.  You want the bits left in the pan after browning the meat.  That is where the flavor comes from.  You also want to use a non stick skillet and cook the meat in a single layer that does not crowd the pan.  If you overcrowd the pan, you will see all the liquid come out of the meat which will then steam the sausage instead of browning it.  Another common mistake is to stir the contents of the pan too often.  Let it cook till it browns.

The toasting or browning of foods that exponentially adds to the flavor is known as the Maillard reaction.  The little bits of brown goodness that stick to the bottom of the pan is called the fond.  Both of these are very, very good things.  Now that we know a couple of new terms, back to the soup.

Brown the sausage without the casings.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Brown pancetta in the same pan.  Remove and set aside.  Pour off any excess grease.  Add shallots to the pan and saute until translucent.  Add 1/4 cup of the chicken stock.  As you add the liquid, the fond (dark and lovely sticky bits on the bottom of the pan) should loosen as you stir and become part of the cooking liquid.  This is called deglazing the pan.  Ain’t we fancy!  Add the remaining broth, water, and rind from the parmesan.  Bring to a boil and add the potatoes.  Cook until potatoes are tender.  Add browned sausage, pancetta, kale, and milk.  Bring back to simmer to heat thoroughly.  Serve with a healthy dose of parmesan. 


Beater Blade

beaterbladeI am a cheapo.  For years I could not understand why anyone would spend $300 for a KitchenAid Mixer when you could get a handmixer at the grocery store for about $10.  Until I used one.  There is no better way to get a professionally consistant result.  The only pain was the constant scraping down of the bowl.  For everything to be properly distributed in the batter, you have to stop the mixer, lower the bowl, scrape the sides and the blade with the spatula, raise the bowl, and mix some more.

Until I found the Beater Blade.  To quote the website, “Patented BeaterBlade “wing-system” design acts like a wiper blade that continuously scrapes the sides and bottom of bowl while it mixes. Oh, and BeaterBlade is also a Spatula!” 

If you have a KitchenAid or love somebody that does, the Beater Blade is a must have!

Taste of Austin

TASTERESERVEDTaste of Austin is held every year in January to showcase Austin’s restaurants and give diners a chance to perhaps try something new.  I actually kind of like the challenge of negotiating the crowds and I have my own system for making the most of these foodie events.

Rule # 1-  Always bring a swag bag.  They usually hand ones out there but that is just another line to stand in.  Come prepared.

Rule # 2-  First priority is finding a table.  The extra $5 is well worth it to get reserved seating and your table will be home base for this foodie mission.  You want a table near an entrance for quickly ducking in and out of the crowds.

Rule # 3-  Get a map.  Most years they have them but they are not always easy to find.  Ask for one as you come in, ususally the volunteers know where to get one from.

Rule # 4- Plan your attack from home base.  Note which restaurants you really want to try.  The more popular restaurants usually have long lines but those ebb and flow, so if the line is really long, do a sweep back later.

Rule # 5-  There is no rule saying that you have to start at table one and follow the crowd in clockwise order between booths.  In fact, that is a great way to spend your time in lines instead of sampling. 

Rule # 6-  Try to load up as much as possible and carry it back to the table where you can relax and sample at a more leisurely pace.

Rule #7-  The good booths will run out of food, probably about an hour before the end of the event, so get a good nosh to nibble on and brave the line if you have to.

Rule #8-  Have a blast!!!  Toss all rules out the window as needed to make sure you enjoy hanging out with a few thousand of your fellow foodies.

2 Words- Bacon. Doughnut.

GordoughsWhat is better than fried dough?  Fried dough with a maple glaze topped with bacon! 

Before the economy collapsed, I was working with a guy that was trying to start a sorbet business out of a trailer.  Back when Hey Cupcake was only in 1 Airstream and you could only get Chicken Cones during ACL.  So I really understand the logistics and complications of these little gems that have become so prolific, especially  on South Congress and Lamar.  And gourmet trailer food is just so damn Austin.

Gordough’s is located 1219 S. Lamar between Barton Springs and Oltorf next to a couple of other trailers that also look interesting but I was there for one thing only, the Flying Pig.  Gordough’s serves up huge, fresh fried yeast doughnuts with your choice of toppings for $3.25 plus $1 for meat.  The Flying Pig has a thin maple glaze and is topped with several slices of bacon.  DEE-LISH-US.  I think I’ll try the Porkey’s next time-  Canadian bacon, cream cheese, and jalapeno jelly.

“Baked” Brownies

baked browniesMy bff’s Ethan and Michelle have a house out in Buda, TX with a wonderful wraparound porch.  After a stressful week, there is nothing more relaxing than kicking your boots up on the rail and having a cold one.  Sometimes, after an especially stressfull week, a cold one is a tall glass of milk along with my favorite brownies.

This recipe is from “Baked:  New Frontieers in Cooking”  by Matt Lewis and Reanto Poliafito.  It is the perfect combination of fudgey and chewey.  It also closely resembles another of my favorite confections, Miles of Chocolate, although Miles’ are gluten free and these are not.

Parchment paper "sling"
Parchment paper "sling"

I would also recommend making a sling for the brownies by lining the pan with parchment paper or tin foil with enough overlapping the edges to pull the brownies out of the pan AFTER they cool.

Yield: 24 brownies

The Baked brownie is a beautiful thing. It has won the hearts and minds of many people, been featured on the pages of O Magazine as a favorite thing, and won best brownie by the folks at America’s Test Kitchen and the Today Show. Our brownie really owes many kudos to our friend and superstar pastry chef Lesli Heffler-Flick. She created the original ultimate brownie for us. It is dense, chocolatey, and slightly fudgy, and we are forever grateful to her for letting us adapt her recipe.

Baked Note: A great brownie is easy to make, but you have to be aware of several factors. 1. Use a dark cocoa powder, like Valrhona. A pale, light-colored cocoa does not have enough depth. 2. Make sure your eggs are room temperature and do not overbeat them into the batter, and 3. Make sure you check your brownies often while baking. Once the brownies have been overbaked slightly, they have reached the point of no return.

1 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons dark cocoa powder
11 ounces quality dark chocolate (60-72%), chopped coarsely
8 ounces butter (2 sticks), cut into 1 inch cubes
1 tsp instant espresso powder
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light colored metal pan 9x13x2 pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, the salt, and cocoa powder.

Configure a large sized double boiler. Place the chocolate, the butter, and the instant espresso powder in the bowl of the double boiler and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water of the double boiler and add both sugars. Whisk the sugars until completely combined and remove the bowl from the pan. Mixture should be room temperature.

Add three eggs to the chocolate/butter mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until just combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not over beat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle the flour/cocoa/salt mix over the chocolate. Using a spatula (DO NOT USE A WHISK) fold the dry into the wet until there is just a trace amount of the flour/cocoa mix visible.

Pour the mixture into the pan and smooth the top with your spatula. Bake the brownies for 30 minutes (rotate the pan half-way through baking) and check to make sure the brownies are completely done by sticking a toothpick into the center of the pan. The brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Cool the brownies completely before cutting and serving.

Eat Local Week from Edible Austin

eat-local-logoA couple of years ago I met Marla Camp at a Slow Food reception.  She told me she was starting a foodie magazine called Edible Austin.  Since then I have fallen in love with this gem  The photography is beautiful and the articles are educational and entertaining.  I seem to run into Marla wherever there are Austin foodies and artisinal local food producers.  She is a true champion for our local scene.  Edible Austin is sponsoring an Eat Local Week with some really cool events.  You can probably catch me at the Drink Local soiree.  Eat Local Week is an invitation to Central Texans to explore and celebrate the abundance of local food and to raise money for Urban Roots, a youth development program that uses sustainable agriculture as a means to transform the lives of young people and to increase the access of healthy food in Austin. More info at edibleaustin.com!

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