Trader Joe’s

2014-01-14 15.28.13I hate lines. Seems like every time something new opens in Austin, the whole city goes at once. So now like Pavlov’s dogs we believe if it is really cool, we have to stand in line for it. Deep dark secret, I have never stood in the usual 9am line for Franklin’s. The first time I went was before the lines started and I’m probably one of the damn bloggers that talked about it so much you soon had to queue for the ‘cue. I apologize. I’ve had it a dozen times since then but either at a special event where lines are much shorter or one time I sent an intern. He was always sexting with his girlfriend instead of working anyway. Might as well do it while picking me up some meatopia!

2014-01-14 15.30.03Anyway, the lines a month ago were outside the new Trader Joe’s. As the city gets ready to focus its queue-mania on the new Whole Foods opening at the Domain tomorrow, I took it as an opportunity to check out the much-less-busy but still-very-shiny Trader Joe’s. My one visit prior to today was at a location in Chicago. I was already late to a conference but had to stop in to see the fabled store for myself as well as pick up a couple of bottles of the 2 buck chuck when I ran across it on the way to the hotel.

2014-01-14 15.30.21In case you are not familiar with Trader Joe’s, it is a chain of grocery stores that started in the late 60’s in California. They started dressing the employees in Hawaiian shirts and leis when Tiki fever had gripped the nation and it stuck as the Trader Joe laid back style. They are most famous for high quality, organic and fresh, especially with their in-house brand of products. Many of the Trader Joe’s brand are manufactured under super-secret contract in the same factories where the more expensive, well-known brand name goods are made. Many of the creations are their own and they are not the generic crap. The list of the top 25 Trader Joe’s products is a much anticipated list for those looking for the hottest trend to join in or copy. The Triple Ginger Snaps that tops this years list edged out the fabled Speculoos Cookie Butter that has ruled for several years. Other exotic sounding top products include the Cranberry Goat Cheese Log and the Rosemary Marcona Almonds.

2014-01-14 15.40.58Always popular on the list are the Charles Shaw line of wines launched in 2002. Its easy drinking reputation and $2 price tag soon earned it the nickname 2 Buck Chuck. While it is not a wine you will ever see aging in the cellar of your favorite wine snob, for the ridiculously low price, originally $1.99 now $2.99, you get a not-too-terrible table wine in your favorite hue. It is worth having on hand just for the next time friends drop by that might not appreciate that bottle of Northstar you have been saving for a special occasion.

2014-01-14 15.42.17As you can see from my cart, I picked up goods from each of the food groups: Fruit, Wine, Chocolate, Cheese and Butter. That is what I get for going with no list just to look around. I couldn’t help it. Everything in my basket except the bananas was a house brand at shockingly low prices. It is like shopping at Whole Foods with HEB prices. They also carry a large selection of excellent produce, meats and check out the wall of cheeses!

2014-01-14 15.33.10The current Rollingwood location is on the opposite side of Austin from me but fortunately 2 more possibly bigger stores should be opening downtown and in the Arboretum area sometime in 2014. So while I am waiting on stores to open and the lines to die down at the oyster bar at the new Whole Foods, I guess I will try to figure out which wine goes with cookie butter. I’m guessing the answer is any.

Dripping with Taste in Dripping Springs

We have been blessed this year with a relatively mild summer, especially compared with last years record breaking days over 100 degrees.  The 5th annual Dripping with Taste Festival in Dripping Springs, TX had the advantage of a beautiful new location at the Texas Hill Country Olive Company as well as a first cold front of the season that brought temperatures into the low 90’s (don’t laugh, that is a cold front for central Texas in early September!) Record crowds doubled the attendance of last year and led to some crowding issues but the wines, beers, and food for tastings were plentiful and delicious!

Some of my favorites of the wines available for tasting included the Gotas de Oro from Wines of Dotson Cervantes, a crisp bite of fall stone fruits in a glass, an easy drinking Cabernet Claret from Spicewood Vineyards, and a delightfully dark and complex Dolcetto that is not sweet despite the name being Italian for little sweet one from Duchman Family Winery.  General admission patrons were only given 6 tasting tickets and many of the food samples were 2 or more.  Additional tickets were available for purchase for $1 each but so were bottles of wine.  Many festival goers including myself chose to use their tickets for food tastings and purchase a favorite wine to share with others.  This strategy also helped avoid the overcrowding in the tasting room.

In addition to the wineries on hand, many of the local breweries were represented as well including Independence, Jester King, Thirsty Planet, Live Oak, and Real Ale.  Choosing my favorite among the beers is like choosing a favorite child.  It has been a pleasure watching the brew scene explode and mature over the last decade in Austin.  As hard as it is to choose, I would have to say my favorite of the day was the Devil’s Backbone from Real Ale because it is seasonal, hard to find, and very easy drinking despite its high alcohol content of 8.1%.

The food at the festival kept me going with all of that alcohol.  The folks at Wednesday Dinner deliver a 3 course meal to the Dudley’s Wine Bar at 6pm for only $10 per person and the mussels they served at the festival had me wishing I lived closer to Dripping Springs.  The curry and coconut broth had me licking the bottom of the bowl!  Kate’s Place in Wimberley was serving up what they called “Ultimate Mac and Cheese”.  That sounds like a challenge to me, so I had to try it.  The cheese was creamy, the pasta toothy, the crumb topping crunchy, and the addition of tomatoes, not too many, just enough for a textural contrast made for a nice surprise.  Although not my “ultimate” mac and cheese, it was definitely good enough to put Kate’s Place on my list of places to visit soon.

 

My favorite bite of the day came from the Nutty Brown Cafe.  My hands were full and I actually had run out of tickets.  I planned to go by some more and come back to Nutty Brown but one look at the unctuous bowl of Shiner braised short ribs over a steaming bowl of horseradish mashed potatoes and I had to have some immediately!  The chef was nice enough to front me some and I was so glad he did!  The short ribs were fork tender in a savory broth over a bowl of creamy potatoes with just a hint of kick from the horseradish.  Very rich and perfectly paired with the Dolcetto.

Of course, we cannot forget desserts!  And there were plenty of those as well.  Some of the standouts were Better Bites Bakery which offers delicious vegan and gluten-free cake balls and cupcakes.  Their products are available in Austin by delivery as well as at People’s RX among other places.  High Street Chocolates from Comfort, TX offer handmade chocolate bars with a spicy kick.  Rolling in Thyme and Dough is a bakery in Dripping Springs that offer fresh loaves of bread and sandwiches as well as an assortment of desserts and baked goods including a decadent chocolate dipped fig.  Roadside favorite Navidad Farm Pecans had a selection of their specialty nuts and candies including a rainbow of brittles.

In addition to all the food, there were vendors with handcrafted goods, live music all day, and culinary demos plus a huge bar for tasting the delicious olive oils and balsamic vinegars available from our host at Texas Hill Country Olive Oil.  


I came early to the fest and intended to leave mid afternoon because of a later event but I had so much fun with the weather, the music, the food, the wine and especially all of the friendly folks I met, I stayed long enough to actually get a bit of a sunburn on my back.  Lounging at one of the tables provided for patrons, I met a steady stream of friends both old and new, exchanging glasses of wines and advice on must try bites of food.  I will definitely be returning to the Hill Country for next year’s fest and even sooner to visit new places and friends.

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday to Me!

From left to right: Quita Culpepper from KVUE, Bettie Cross, and Leslie Coons, both from KEYE

What a wonderful week I had!  I was bummed that I could not afford to jet away to my favorite tropical island (Jamaica!) for a luxurious getaway.  The economy is squeezing my pocket like most American’s these days, so I had to be content having a “Staycation” in Texas.  With a little luck and some good friends, I was able to swing a pretty decent time despite the lack of funds. 

First came the luck.  I watched the first Cowboy game of the season at my local Red Robin which offers happy hour specials during the games as well as always friendly staff.  If you RSVP’d on Facebook for the watch party, it put you in a drawing with the grand prize being two tickets for the Cowboys vs Redskins game on Monday night September 26.  I was lucky enough to have my name drawn at the top of the third quarter, even though Romo choked in the 4th for a loss to the Jets.  One of my close friends assured me they would bail me out of jail if I found myself on the field in Dallas pimp slapping Tony for similar shenanigans, so I recruited a road buddy and was off to Dallas. 

 We stopped in Waco for lunch at the Elite.  Waco is home to Baylor University which I attended as well as my parents before me.  In fact, the Elite was one of their date spots in the late 1950’s and is still a popular meeting place today.  My first tweet of the day was this picture with “Having CFS and DP at the Elite in Waco.”  For you non- Texans that is chicken fried steak and Dr. Pepper.  The soda was invented in Waco and the mascot Baylor bear was famous for swigging a cold one during games and for tourists.  I don’t think PETA lets them do that anymore.

Getting to Jerry’s World for the game was an adventure in itself.  My friend Dax commandeered a couch from a buddy for us to stay on.  Parking for the game is minimum $40 but I heard about a shuttle they were running from Humperdink’s, a local brewpub, for $10 each.  Dax talked me into parking in some random lot with a shuttle for only $8 but we ended the evening having to take a cab back to the lot because we could not find the meet up spot after the game.  If you go, use Humperdink’s shuttle.  We ended up there drinking beer after the game anyway and it would have cost less.  Plus the beer is pretty good and the fans are friendly.  Fortunately, Romo did not choke in the fourth this time and thanks to some phenomenal defense, the Cowboys won!  And thanks to the plastic flask Dax snuck in, we did not have to pay $8.50 for a Coors Light. 

On the way back to Austin we stopped at Ruby’s Cafe in Jarrell.  It is less than a mile off the highway near the Flying J truck stop.  I had heard this place had fabulous CFS (that’s chicken fried steak if you are paying attention) and they did not disappoint.  The Elite’s was good but Ruby’s was slap your mamma good!  They also do a large variety of veggies daily.  You have to have mashed potatoes with CFS and I got creamed corn as my second side.  The potatoes were delicious but I really loved the creamy sweet corn that had a just right spicy kick to them.  I will definitely be making more trips to Jarrell to try more as well as some of the pastry items in the window of this picture. 

I will finish birthday tales tomorrow including details of the lovely ladies in the picture at the beginning of the post.  Time to head home for now!

UPDATE!  Part 2

My actual birthday this year was on Wednesday and it happened to coincide with the Ambiente Wine Importing Co. portfolio tasting in Austin.  I was invited to the tasting by my buddy in the wine biz Buckley Wineholt in celebration of my birthday as well as his ironing out the final details to open his new shop Urban Wine and Liquor at the Austonian.  The store will offer wine, spirits, beers, barware, imported cigars and cigarettes, and a choice of artisanal foods including Texas-produced items. The shop’s 2,615-square-foot storefront on Congress Avenue will be designed by local design-build firm Bercy Chen Studio.  I have had the pleasure of attending several wine tastings by Buckley and I cannot wait to see what he stocks his store with. 

The Ambiente tasting was incredible. It was in the Sangerrunde Hall at Scholz Garten.  There were well over 100 wines of all different styles and price ranges. 

My absolute favorite wine is a Brunello. This was my first taste of the highly rated 2006 release.

Here are some of my favorites: 

Cab from Stag's Leap
Pinot Noir from Benovia

 

I spent my birthday dinner at the opening of a new Japanese restaurant near MLK and Lavaca called Lavaca Teppan. I was invited to the soft opening by the gorgeous Jette Momant who is always at the best parties, usually because she is throwing them.  She seated me with 3 of my favorite media ladies in Austin, Bettie Cross and Leslie Coons from We Are Austin on KEYE and Quita Culpepper from KVUE.  I LOVED hanging out with the media ladies over dinner!
The food was delicious, too. 

Thanks again to all my wonderful friends who made my birthday special this year!!! 
Beautiful space at Lavaca Teppan designed by Austin architect Jamie Chioco
Beef tataki- charbroiled filet with ponzu dipping sauce
Tempura vegetables and shrimp
House soup with mushrooms and tempura flakes
Teriyaki chicken
Tori kara don- Japanese fried chicken and eggs over steamed rice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Live Oak Roggenbier

This is Kathryn from http://austingastronomist.com/ also getting the beer shot. Dang food bloggers always taking pics 🙂

I had the good fortune to sample and serve Live Oak’s summer seasonal a couple of weeks ago during MisoHungry’s Cupcake Smackdown.  Roggenbier literally translates as rye beer.  I will not pretend to even be slightly knowledgeable of brewing practices and techniques but the description I was using all day that every one seemed to agree with is, “Imagine an amber and a hefeweizen fell and love and had a beautiful baby.  Now chill the baby and drink it all summer long!”  Roggenbier is available only on tap at bars around Austin that I know of.  I have seen it at Whip In and the Draught House.  I would highly recommend getting a growler full to take home!

Week of 1000 Cocktails Part 2

Next stop on the cocktail train was a mixology class sponsored by Hendricks gin. It was all very mysterious. I saw an add online for a Hendricks class at a secret location. I submitted my info and within 24 hours, I got the invite and the location was revealed to be Kenichi on 4th and Colorado. I had heard about the great happy hour at Kenichi, so I headed straight over from work to try some of the offerings before class began. There is a huge assortment of rolls, appetizers, and even main courses discounted from 5-7.  The crowd of trendy downtowners and better than average sushi are definitely a draw.  The place was packed by 7pm.  I tried the wild boar potstickers as well as a couple of the rolls. If you do not mind crowds or parking hassles, it really is a good deal on the happy hour.

After we sampled some drinks made with Hendricks gin at the bar, we convened in a backroom outfitted with a full bartenders set up at each of our seats.  The entertaining presentation included details of how Hendricks is made in small batches in two different kinds of stills for a gin that has a pleasant hint of cucumber and roses.  We also learned to make 3 kinds of gimmlets.  As you can imagine, we were a pretty rowdy bunch by the end.  I stuck around afterwards to try some of the passed appetizers including a lovely little lamb chop.

Final cocktail party was at the Wine and Food Foundation’s Big Reds and Bubbles at the Driskill.  I received an invitation to pour a couple of days prior.  I think my blood was probably about 60 proof after the week long festivities I had been indulging in but I knew I had to attend this and I was so glad I did.  I ended up pouring for the distributor that carries Penfolds and they brought out the big dogs.  The RWT shiraz received the following review from Wine Spectator-  93 points  “Rich, ripe and focused, with a lovely purity to the blackberry, dark plum and sweet spice flavors, playing against bittersweet chocolate notes on the long, expressive finish. Best from 2010 through 2020.” And the fabled Grange, also from Wine Spectator-   98 points Wine Spectator: “Smooth and seductive, this delivers a full-throated chorus of currant, plum, blackberry and spice flavors, hinting at coffee and cardamom as the finish floats and sails easily over a bed of polished, refined tannins. A touch of black olive balances nicely against it all. Beautifully structured, expressive and very long. Best from 2012 through 2025.”  The RWT retails around $100 a bottle and the Grange goes for $500.

This is officially the most expensive bottle of wine I have ever had.  It was at the same time complex and smooth.  Peppery, like you would expect from a shiraz but with a beautiful background of dark fruit and a finish that I am still tasting.  I ended the evening with a gorgeous plate of petit fours from Tony Sansalone, pastry chef at the Driskill, and a small glass of the Grange sitting on the balcony overlooking 6th street.  What a magical Austin moment.

So dive into cocktail season in Austin.  You will not regret it!

Wines.com

Originally uploaded by christy111luv

 

Did you know Wines.com is housed here in Austin?  That’s Buckley Wineholt on the right  interviewing a winemaker about his pinot noir on wines.com TV.  Got an email from Buckley today announcing a big clearance sale TODAY May 14 from Noon-7 at 5005 Commercial Park Dr Austin, TX 78724.  I have gotten some great bargains from the VIP list including a beautifully deep shiraz from Two Hands that was #14 on Wine Spectator’s top 100 last year.  This wine normally retails for around $60-$80 and I got it at a STEAL for $30 during one of Buckley’s sales.  I will be there this afternoon.  Hope to see you there!!

Luncheon at Fall Creek Vineyard

Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Fest is one of my favorite foodie events of the year.  I attended for the first time 7 years ago and had so much fun that I have volunteered every year since.  I always start the fest with one of the luncheons in the Hill Country at a winery.  For the last few years I have been lucky enough to attend the luncheon at Fall Creek Vineyards.

Susan and Ed Auler are luminaries of the Texas wine world.  The very first fest 25 years ago, the legend goes, was planned around Susan’s kitchen table along with a now megastar in the wine world, Karen MacNeil, author of the Wine Bible and beloved PBS host.

Here is the menu we enjoyed with pictures:

1st Course

Seared Texas Shrimp and Blue Crab with White-Truffled Gazpacho

By Chef Jon Bonnell

Peregrine Hills Chardonnay

2nd Course

Texas Coffee Rubbed Grilled Strip Steak,
Roasted Parsnips, Candied Garlic, Mesquite Syrup

By Chef Josh Watkins

Fall Creek Vineyards Tempranillo, “Salt Lick Vineyards”, 2008

Dessert Course

Pound Cake, Fresh Seasonal Berries and Lemon Curd

By Chef Randy Evans

Llano Estacado Moscato

The grounds at Fall Creek are gorgeous.  Especially charming during this lush spring were the bluebonnets blooming among the vines.  Only in Texas!!

Chef Jon Bonnell prepared a creamy gazpacho that perfumed the air with the scent of white truffle.  The soup was topped with blue crab and Texas Gulf shrimp and matched with a crisp Chardonnay from Perregrine Hills.

It is no secret that I am a big fan of Josh Watkins.  He shines like no other at the Carillon.  But have you ever had a steak cooked to a perfect medium rare at any kind of large event off site from the restaurant?  Josh’s solution is to cook the steaks sous vide, which basically means searing the meat off, sealing in a plastic bag, and then placing them in a large warm bath where they can be brought up to the perfect temperature.  Another advantage to sous vide is that almost the entire steak is the correct degree of doneness and not just the pink center with a ring of gray around it.  The steaks where enhanced by a lovely Tempranillo from Fall Creek but what I really wanted was the big, bold, and hard to come by Meritus that Fall Creek produces.

And I learned the secret to Josh’s candied garlic garnish!  Maybe I will share in another post.

Of course, as a pastry chef, dessert is my favorite!  I have an obsession with lemon curd which almost bloomed into a business at one point and Randy Evans did not disappoint.  The pound cake was toasted for textural crunch, placed upon a layer of lemony buttery curd, then topped with fresh Texas strawberries and lightly whipped cream.  Beautiful and tasty, it inspired me to create a blueberry version over the weekend which I will post along with recipe soon.  Chef Evan’s version was paired with a not too sweet, almost musky Llano Estacado Moscato.

What a great start to a lovely weekend!

Red, Red Wine

7-9-2007-2085
The "Good" Condesa
condesa_
"Not as Good" Condesa

Hi.  My name is Christy and I am a wine racist.  I know there are good whites out there and I have had a few of them.  But I prefer the deep, luscious, velvety reds.  Even in the dead of summer, I might choose a lighter pinot noir but you can bet it will be a red.  I’m not some wine snob that describes wine as scented with the sweet, sweet aroma of orphan’s tears with a hint of unicorn piss.  But I have had enough wine to know what I like.  My all time, price is no object wine is a Brunello.  At around $80+ a bottle I don’t get to drink much of that.  My favorite finds are the ones you can get for around $10 a bottle.   The absolute go to house wine has been the Condesa de Leganza Crianza 2001, from the La Mancha region in Spain.  Light enough for pork and complex enough for spicy foods, this jammy jewel has been served at many a dinner party with rousing success.  Lately I have only been able to find the 2004 which comes in a much spiffier bottle but the wine seems paler in comparison.  Beware the pretty label.  That is pretty much a truism in wine as in life.

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