25 October 2011

Austin Eats




Bring on The Weird!

Austin has been on my list of cities to visit for a long time.

Food, music, left-of-center sensibility--my kind of town.


In Austin, the food trailer is King.

A few years ago converted airstream and camping trailers serving unique bites started popping up in vacant spaces and parking lots all over town.  Today, they are everywhere and have become an integral part of the city's landscape.  So different.



Most of the trailers have distinct themes and some are painted up in wild colors and have clever names.  The creativity and innovation pouring out of those service windows is so inspiring.

Where to start?

Gordough's.  Loaded donuts fried to order.  'Nuff said.


Fresh off the plane, before the hotel, we trekked out to South Lamar to a gravel lot with 3 food trailers.

Mother Clucker was the second thing I tried.  I originally ordered ODB.  It was supposed to be filled donut holes with icing rolled in coconut.  The holes weren't filled and it was just sweeter than I could handle so I tried again. 

M.C. is a riff on chicken 'n' waffles.  Fried chicken with honey butter on top of a big, fat, donut.  Not too sweet and the donut was more like a fried bagel than an airy donut.



Cody went for The Puddin' -- cream filled, cream cheese icing, bananas and crushed vanilla wafers.  SWEET!  He can handle a lot more sugar than I can.  I'm a sugar-wimp!


The woman in front of us ordered the Porkey's -- Canadian bacon, cream cheese and jalapeno jelly.  She loved it.  After tasting mine, I think she might have been on to something.

Gordough's has some awesome ideas and I'm thinking they're probably a big hit with those folks who get funky late-night cravings!

We also tried some dill pickle shaved ice from the Frigid Frog.  People were going nuts for it so I had to jump in.  Not bad.  Sour!!  We got a tip from one of the women at the stand to add a squirt of margarita mix to the dill and she wasn't wrong.  Made it more interesting on the tongue for sure.

It was a four day eating frenzy.  We tried ice cream and burgers and barbecue and Tex-Mex.  Madness.  But I gotta tell you about the best of the best.

BESTS

Drink:  Mexican Martini at Chuy's (not the chain we know here in LA!)

Chili infused tequila, Cointreau, lime juice and olives.  HELLO!  It was like a dirty martini with spicy jalapeno.  Outstanding!
(FYI - This Chuy's is the same spot the Bush twins got busted for underage drinking.  After tasting this bit of Godly nectar I don't blame them for taking the risk!)


Oh, and the creamy jalapeno dip.  Imagine tiny, tiny pickled jalapenos in your favorite ranch dressing.  Absolutely addictive.

BBQ:  Brisket sandwich at Franklin Barbeque

This place started as a food trailer and has grown so popular they had to move into a brick and mortar joint.  Joint is the best way to describe it.  Or honkey-tonk.  I'm torn.  It's funky in the best way and has a distinct hipster edge.


Texas BBQ is about brisket and the rub.  I've had brisket (even in Austin) and nothing touches this.


Cutting the brisket, they even ask if you want the fatty or the lean (go 1/2 and 1/2).  It was moist and tender and smoky and simple and succulent and crazy delicious.  AND they had sweet tea too!

MEAL:  Uchi

Sushi in the middle of the country?  Usually that gets a big, "No Thank You."  So glad I made an exception.  The whole meal from the ginger sorbet palate cleanser to the ridiculous dessert was simple, clean and satisfying.

Our meal had such a lovely flow.  We went from cool tasting to hot tasting to the chef's selection of sushi to dessert all accompanied by this amazing micro brewed sake!


DESSERT:  3-WAY TIE!

Uchi - Jizake creme caramel with brown butter sorbet and ginger consume
Barley Swine - Butternut squash ice cream, grilled foie gras with sage funnel cake
Bananarchy - Peanut butter and chocolate dipped frozen banana rolled in granola

Dessert at Uchi was the perfect ending to a great meal.  The creme caramel was velvety and full of flavor.  There was a hint of something extra in there that I couldn't quite put my finger on.  Maybe it was the sake they used--could it have been coconut???

The real surprise was the brown butter sorbet with the ginger consumé.  Again, the texture was spot on--not icy or harsh--and brown butter with ginger is my new favorite flavor combo.  I wanted to cheer after the first bite.


Barley Swine is a restaurant born out of a successful food trailer.  Their angle is small plates featuring locally sourced ingredients.  Basically, American tapas.  The real standout was the dessert.


Crunchy funnel cake (earthy from the sage) with decadent, rich foie gras and mellow butternut squash ice cream made for an amazing bite.  I couldn't believe how well everything went together.  You could taste each part and nothing got lost.  Very cool.

Favorite food trailer--hands down Bananarchy.   Made-to-order frozen bananas!

I loved designing my own banana.  If you're a commitmentphobe like me, you can order 1/2 a banana.  You know I didn't stop there, right?  Of course I had 2!

Good things about Bananarchy:

1.  They use fair trade bananas.
2.  They are huge fans of Arrested Development.  Sadly, I didn't have the stomach capacity to try The Gob (it's a double banana extravaganza), but I'm so happy it exists!
3.  Custom frozen bananas--duh!!


The best flavor combo was peanut butter, chocolate and granola (the one on the right).  It was sweet and salty and crunchy with a hint of cinnamon.


I want to bring this to Los Angeles somehow.  I also want to offer dark chocolate with grey sea salt or maybe chocolate spiked with chipotle???

That's my Austin experience.  So inspiring.  Lots of fun.  Big belly ache.  Mission accomplished.


22 October 2011

What's In A Name?

Time for my first rant.

I promise it will be short.  Unfortunately, it will be without photos--too grainy to post.  So disappointing because I would love to make my case visually!

Here it is:
I'm tired of ordering items from a menu that call themselves something familiar like pie or even soup only to get something served to me that in no way resembles pie or soup!

I was at a restaurant in New York and ordered Deep Dish Banana Cream Pie.  Given the reputation of the chef, I was excited to taste it.  I love banana cream pie.


The description was simple.  What I got was not pie.

It was a bowl of whipped cream, a few banana slices with a hard, brown sugar candy that I couldn't break with my spoon.  There was some vanilla pudding in the bowl under all that cream, but there was so much cream incorporated into the pudding that it had very little distinctive flavor.

Where was the crust? 

Hazelnut brittle?  I missed it in all that cream.

Deep Dish Banana Cream Pie--were they actually describing the depth of the saucer?

I was furious.  There was no pie in my pie!  I wrote a strongly worded note to the pastry chef on the comment card.  I explained that when you advertise "pie" that there should be pie in the dish.

Apple pie - apples with crust.

Sweet Potato Pie - sweet potato custard with crust.

Blueberry pie - blueberries with crust.

If you list banana cream pie on the menu then that's what I should get.  The word pie implies crust, not a bowl of whipped cream.  By the way that bowl of cream cost $11!

You would think I would have learned from that.  The lesson should have been to always ask the server to describe the desserts before ordering.  But I can be forgetful.

Last week, I ordered Chocolate Mousse Cake.  Seemed pretty straight-forward at the time.  What came was a cylinder of chocolate mousse.  Where's the cake?  Ugh.  Cody said he got a thin sliver of sponge cake on his fork when he got to the middle of the "cake," but that was too late for me.  I was already disappointed and irritated with myself that I hadn't learned my lesson yet.

A couple of days later while watching Top Chef Just Desserts one of the contestants prepared a dessert that he claimed was a reinterpretation of the candy apple.  The judges questioned his dish because he used chocolate (and no candy or caramel or crunch).  See!  This is what I'm talking about.  I don't remember ever having a candy apple with chocolate, do you?  He defended it, of course.

It's not just desserts either.  We ordered Chilled Shrimp and Melon Gazpacho at a nice restaurant here in Los Angeles and what showed up was a fine dice of tomato, cucumber, onion, pepper, melon with a splash of tomato water over a couple of shrimp on a plate.  Gazpacho is soup!  Soup! 

I know chefs want their customers to enjoy the fruits of their labor.  I want that too.  Part of making that happen is by properly setting a diner's expectations.  It all starts with the menu.  Just describe the actual item being served, not what inspired it.  If it's a reinterpretation of a dish, then call it something else and explain that it is reminiscent of that classic.  Or put a set of quotation marks around the name.  That can be a clue that something's different.  You could even just list the flavors in the dish and surprise me with its form. 

The point is that I don't want to think I'm ordering one thing and end up with something else.  That's disappointing.  A disappointed diner is not a receptive diner.  My mom describes it as having your mouth set for something.  It's like this:

If I have my mouth set for banana cream pie, I don't want a bowl of whipped cream.

If I have my mouth set for chocolate mousse cake, I want cake with my chocolate mousse.

If I have my mouth set for gazpacho, I want a bowl or glass of cold soup.

If I have my mouth set for soda, I don't want tea.  Well that's not really the same thing, but you get the point.

I like to know what I'm ordering.  I don't want to curtail anyone's creativity; I just don't want to be mislead.

Chefs, words are important.  It's the only way you have to get the right audience for your delicious creations, so use them thoughtfully.  Please.

End of rant.

I'm sorry, it wasn't short.

10 October 2011

Fall Crunchies: Kicky Roasted Pumpkin Seeds



Fall already?

I'm trying hard to embrace the truth on the calendar,
but,
but,
but,
I'm not ready.

We haven't gone kayaking yet or seen Shakespeare in the Park.  I keep thinking I have more time!



But I don't.  It's October and time for pumpkin carving and placing my World Series bet.

I thought doing a little roasting might force me into Fall.  Then I thought, if I roast a sugar pie pumpkin I can use the flesh for ice cream (told you I was stubborn) and toast up the seeds too.  A great trial run for my future Jack O' Lantern seeds.

Roasting winter squash of all types is really easy.  You just have to cut them in half, scrape out the seeds (throw them in a sink full of water to clean), rub a little oil over the halves, season with salt and pepper and bake cut-side down on a baking sheet at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes.  When the flesh is soft, it's done.

Did you know the skin of butternut squash is totally edible?  It is.  It becomes chewy when roasted--just like it does with acorn squash.

The hardest part of roasting squash is cutting it in half.  One trick to getting your knife through a pumpkin or squash is to throw the whole thing in a preheated oven for about 5 minutes before trying to cut it.  The heat softens the skin a bit and it's much easier to cut.  Less dangerous too.


Roasting the pumpkin filled the air with an amazing cozy smell.  And one small pumpkin made a whole quart of pumpkin puree for me to use in bread, pie, pasta and even ice cream.  How's that for throwing myself into Fall?  The puree keeps well in the fridge for a week and can be frozen for months.

It wasn't until I started chomping on my Kicky Roasted Pumpkin Seeds that I felt the season change.  Salty, crunchy goodness with a little chipotle kick is what finally did it.

Fine.  It's Fall.  I surrender.

If you need help facing seasonal facts, these little gems can help you too!


07 October 2011

Passion Fruit Tart


Cody and I tied the knot four years ago in Ireland.

"Why Ireland?"  (We get that a lot.)

Well, there's the Guinness, of course.

And we got engaged in Dublin.
I also had this crazy idea that I'd like to get married in a ruin.  They have ruins in Ireland.

So off we went with a big dress and 20 friends in tow.

It was an amazing day and the adventure we've had since has been so rich that I'm happy to say I'd do it all over again!

Enter Passion Fruit.

Perfect for an anniversary.  More accurately, perfect for Cody on our anniversary.  I don't know exactly when it happened, but he's gone bonkers for passion fruit.  It may even rival his affection for anything chocolate.

We went to Chicago recently and while shamelessly eating our way through several bakeshops (it's research!), we tried the Passion Fruit Tart at Floriole in Lincoln Park.

I adored this place.

It's the kind of shop I dream of having.

Open.

Airy.

In a great walking neighborhood.

The case was full of beautiful sweet and savory bites.

I know it's off topic, but the Canelé de Bordeaux was dreamy.  I have a soft spot for canelé.




The passion fruit tart was light and refreshing and creamy.  The crust was thin and crispy.  It was like eating sunshine.  And how cute, right?


Cody made this face... and before I knew it the little tart was nothing but crumbs.

That's when I decided to recreate it for him as a surprise.  It added a little unexpected passion to our anniversary.

I think it turned out pretty great and he was definitely surprised.

What Happened:
This tart is not complicated, it just has a few different steps that build on to one another.  Frankly, its more difficult to explain than to do!

You make passion fruit curd--curd being one of the easiest and quickest things to make.  So versatile and packed with flavor.  Then it sets.  That's when you can make the crust.  Once the crust is cooled you finish the cream, fill and chill.

This Pate Sucre is foolproof.  It's a cookie dough crust, so you don't really have to worry about ruining it.  This is not a flaky, temperamental pie crust.  It can be rolled out cold too.  Warning:  the dough will break on you.  Don't worry.  Patch or piece it back together and move on.

You don't have to have a tart pan to make this (or any other) tart.  I used an 8-inch cake pan because I wanted plain, straight sides like the one at Floriole.  I dabbed a little non-stick spray on the pan for insurance, but it came out easily.  I trimmed the sides about 3/4 of the way up the side of the pan only because I didn't want a 2-inch deep tart, but you don't have to do this.

The Results:
Pretty.  Creamy.  Tangy.

I was very happy with it and Cody was over the moon.

The passion fruit cream was full flavored and zippy.  The smell alone was intoxicating.  The crust was crispy against all that fluffy cream.  The salt in the crust helped balance out the sweetness too.

Things I Would Change:
  • Nada.

06 October 2011

The Last Taste of Summer: Watermelon Lemonade Sorbet

One of the advantages of living in a warm climate is that Summer's bounty lasts just a liiiiittle longer.  I'm a summer girl so the disappearance of tomatoes and the shorter days tends to make me a little blue.

A week or so ago I squirreled away a bowling ball of a watermelon in the back of the fridge.  I like my watermelon cold, but I have to admit I kept this one around longer than usual just because I didn't want to say goodbye to summer days with their promise of vacations, barbeques, short skirts and sandals.  I put it off eating it as long as I could, but I knew I was fast approaching the point of use-it-or-lose-it.

I used it.

It timed perfectly with finishing Jeni Britton Bauer's new ice cream book.  It's a beautiful book full of unique recipes and geeky food science facts that people like me lap up like cream--preferably frozen!

Since my watermelon was calling me, I busted out my ice cream machine and tried Jeni's Watermelon Lemonade Sorbet recipe.

Sorbet's success rests in the sweet hands of sugar.

Sugar keeps ice balls at bay and in combination with chilled churning makes for a smooth texture.  Too little sugar and you get crunchy, fruity ice.  A good safety check is to taste the base before you freeze it.  It should taste much sweeter than what you would want the sorbet to be.  That's one way to check you're on track before you finish it.

What Happened:
This recipe is so simple.  Quick too.  Basically, you puree some watermelon, add it to lemon simple syrup and freeze it.  Voila.  You could even buy watermelon cubes and bypass the step of breaking down a watermelon.

The Results:
The finished sorbet is really brightly flavored thanks to the "lemonade."  I was happy the watermelon flavor didn't get overpowered by the lemon.  It's smooth and sweet and very well-balanced.

Even with my mistake of over-churning just a bit, the texture survived.  That's how good the recipe is.  Water and sugar are in balance.  The corn syrup helps with this too.

Yeah, it tastes like late summer.  Sigh...

I'll definitely make this again.

          A word on corn syrup.  This is not high fructose corn syrup so don't 
          be afraid.  That doesn't mean you want to go crazy, but by using it 
          in your recipes you're not hooking you or your families on sugar-crack!
          Corn syrup is less sweet than granulated sugar and one of its main 
          properties is that it prevents the crystallization of sugar--our main 
          goal in making frozen treats!

What I Would Change:
Over-churned--don't do this (but it ended up ok).
  • Don't over-churn it next time.  It's supposed to be like soft-whipped cream.  I got distracted and it went a bit too far.  I will get it right next time!
  • I added a pinch of salt to the watermelon.  I like my watermelon salted.  If you have a pale melon, it could help coax out more of the melon's flavor.
  • Next time I will steep some fresh mint in the puree before I freeze it.  Watermelon and lemon both love mint and that screamed out to me with each spoonful.
If you find a lonely bit of watermelon and you're mourning the loss of summer, whip this up.  It's yummy.


02 October 2011

Food Truck Sweets


Sometimes I need a little Sunday adventure.

Reading the Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams At Home book cover-to-cover yesterday got me thinking about creamy deliciousness.

Thinking about creamy deliciousness reminded me about an LA food truck I read about called Coolhaus.


I'd hoped to visit their new storefront in Culver City, but it's not open yet so I headed to Twitter to track down the truck.  The scavenger hunt was on.


In less than an hour Cody and I were standing in line ironing out our sandwich strategy.  I was immediately drawn to the special flavor of the day - Sweet Potato with Swirled Marshmallow.  But which cookie to choose?

Red Velvet?  Chocolate Chip?  Snickerdoodle?  Peanut Butter?  Double Chocolate with Salt?  Hmmm....

Double Chocolate with Salt.

Turns out Cody wanted the same thing!  That's against our restaurant rules, so he chose Maker's Mark with Peaches on Snickerdoodle.

My Sweet Potato ice cream was nice, but subtle and totally got lost between the Double Chocolate cookie.  The cookie was terrific.  Soft, chocolaty and I love salt on chocolate.

The Maker's-Mark was really boozy--but in a good way.  So there was peach in it too, huh?  Didn't taste it.  The cookie was not stellar.  It was definitely over-baked (a Snickerdoodle should never be brown--she's a natural blonde, people!).

Fact--crunchy cookies make for a tough-to-enjoy ice cream sandwich.  Thankfully the edible wrapper (very cool) helped hold it all together.



Being the sick tasters we are we went back for a solo scoop of Red Velvet--cream cheese ice cream with bits of red velvet cake running through it.

Hands down this was the best thing we tried.  I tasted the Pineapple and Serrano Chili sorbet too.  I liked the big kick, but the cream won today's chilly battle.

That was my Sunday.  What'd you do?