Tuesday is Groundhog Day, and there is the worry that we might get six more weeks of winter. Austin has had a very mild winter so far, but you might have a case of the winter blues nonetheless. Here's a cure--pop into VOX Table in Lamar Union and try something from their new cocktail menu created by their newly promoted beverage director, JR Mocanu. I tried #delicious last weekend before catching a movie at the neighboring Alamo Drafthouse. The drink is a blend of Hendrick's Gin with a hibiscus-Chenin Blanc syrup. The result is a balanced, sweet yet herbaceous cocktail that is very sippable. The pretty color comes from the hibiscus and it's garnished with a lovely flower, a reminder that spring is not far away. Bar hours are Thursday-Friday, 5:00 p.m.-12:00 a.m.; Saturday, 11:00 a.m.-1:00 a.m.; Sunday-Wednesday, 5:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m. Happy Hour happens Monday-Friday, 5:00 p.m.-6:30 p.m. Free valet parking (in front of Cantine) and free parking in the Lamar Union garage. Here's to the last days of winter.
This is my current favorite recipe from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi. I have always been a fan of rice and it is clear Ottolenghi feels the same way. The preparation method may seem laborious (the rinsing, soaking, rinsing, cooking and re-rinsing of the rice), but the extra steps produced rice that was perfectly cooked, plus the flavor from the sautéd almonds and dates, not to mention the saffron, brings the dish to new heights. It is reminiscent of Iranian style rice, which is the best in my book. It pairs well with just about anything, or makes a satisfying meal on its own. Don't forget to dig deep for the crunchy bits at the bottom.
Saffron, Date and Almond Rice
2 cups basmati rice
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup whole almonds, skin on, roughly chopped
4 large Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads soaked in 2 tablespoons hot water
Salt and white pepper
Place the rice in a fine mesh colander and rinse well under running cold water. Put the rinsed rice in a large bowl covered with lukewarm water and add two tablespoons of salt; stir well. Allow rice to sit for one to two hours, then drain and rinse again, using lukewarm water. Place a medium pot of water over high heat to boil, add two tablespoons of salt. Once the water boils, add the rice and boil gently for three to four minutes, until almost cooked. Taste a grain of rice to confirm it is al dente. Drain rice and rinse under lukewarm water; set aside to allow to drain further. In the same pot, melt 5 1/2 tablespoons of butter then sauté the almonds for four minutes, until slightly golden. Add the dates, cook for 2 more minutes, then stir in 1/2 a teaspoon of white pepper, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and half of the rice. Gently flatten this layer down, then spoon the remaining rice on top. Melt the remaining butter and pour over the top, along with three tablespoons of water. Tightly cover the pan with a lid and cook on the lowest possible heat for 35 minutes. Turn off the heat, spoon over the saffron and its water, cover with a tea towel, put the lid back on and set aside for 10 minutes. (Serves 4-6)
This year you can celebrate Valentine's Day all weekend. February 14 falls on a Sunday (which somehow doesn't lend itself to a romantic night out on the town with Monday morning looming), so Friday or Saturday evening (or Saturday/Sunday afternoon) outings lessen the pressure. If you plan to brave the crowds and dine out that weekend, be sure to make a reservation very soon if you haven't already. In the event your preferred reservation date and time are not available online, call the restaurant to see what options are available (it is worth the extra effort). Some restaurants do not have dinner service on February 14, but will offer brunch instead. Here is a list of some of your best bets in Austin:
Apis Restaurant & Apiary-The honey themed restaurant in Spicewood is offering a special 3-cource prix fixe Valentine's menu all weekend. Wine pairings available.
Barley Swine-At their brand new location on Burnet Road (the South Lamar location is closed) they are offering their a la carte menu and the chef's tasting menu.
Clark's Oyster Bar-The wee Clarksville space is so intimate and inviting. And what says sexy more than oysters and champagne?
Dai Due-There will be a special prix fixe menu available in the dining room on February 14th. They will offer the full a la carte menu on both Friday and Saturday, with a seafood Supper Club menu for two on Friday the 12th and a mixed grill of meats for two on Saturday the 13th; the a la carte menu will not be available on Sunday.
épicerie-They will only be open for brunch on Valentine's Day, but it would be fun to start the celebration early that day. No reservations, so plan on getting there early. Regular hours on Friday and Saturday.
Fabi & Rosi-The front of the restaurant is reserved for walk-ins on Valentine's evening, so get there early. The back room has limited tickets with a special prix fixe menu.
Gardner-There will be two seatings on Valentine's Day (6-:00-7:00 p.m. and 8:00-9:00 p.m.), each consisting of 4 courses, wine pairing available.
Hopfields-They are taking reservations at the cozy gastropub north of UT campus for Valentine's Day. See if you can get a table in the back area.
Juniper-Open for Brunch only on Sunday, 10:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., half off bubbles. Regular hours on Friday and Saturday.
Kome-Low-key sushi on Airport Blvd. Reservations for larger parties only, so plan accordingly.
Lenoir-Prior to Valentine's Day, they are hosting a complimentary Valentine’s-themed wine tasting in the Wine Garden on Thursday, February 11, 5:30–7:00 p.m. featuring winter reds and rosés with Beverage Director, Chris Kelly. Wines will be available for purchase to take home. There will be a Valentine's Day Brunch Pop-Up With Thomas Calhoun and Matt-Gary Lester, 10:00 a.m. until sold out. Regular dinner service hours on Valentine's weekend.
Monger's Market + Kitchen-They are taking reservations for Valentine's Day at this cozy seafood spot.
Olamie-Serving a special five course tasting menu with optional wine pairings on Saturday, February 13th as well as Sunday, February 14th. Vegetarian menu available upon request. They offer lunch and dinner on Friday, brunch and dinner on Saturday.
Patrizi's-The little Italian trailer behind the Vortex and Butterfly Bar will serve you an authentic, casual meal, no reservations required. Check their Facebook page in case of inclement weather.
Sway-Modern Thai with an exotic interior. Try to get seated at the bar to watch the chefs in actions. No reservations unless you are in a party of 10 or more, so arrive early.
Texas French Bread-A special 4-course prix fixe menu (wine pairings available) will be served Saturday, February 13 and Sunday, February 14, with two seatings; 5:30-6:30 p.m., or 8:00-9:30 p.m.
Wink-Closed on Sundays, so if you want to experience the farm-to-table menu that changes daily, visit on Friday or Saturday. The Wine Bar next door is great, too, and you can order just about everything on the restaurant menu at the bar.
I know whiskey, bourbon and scotch are very popular drinks during the cold weather months, but I am not a big fan. So what's a girl to do? Enlist cognac. Of course you can sip cognac on its own to warm up, but if you have a case of the January doldrums, use it in a cocktail. I found this recipe on Esquire's site and it is just the thing to help get me through these cold winter nights. Even though the drink is served chilled, the cognac somehow warms the drink and makes it fell like a winter sipper. I used Meyer lemon juice since I had it on hand, but standard lemons also work well. Stay warm this weekend.
Cognac French 75
1 ounce cognac
1/2 ounce lemon juice (I used Meyer lemon juice)
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Splash of sparkling wine
Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake well, then strain into a champagne flute. Top with sparkling wine and add a twist of lemon. (Serves 1)
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? With this Chicken & Egg salad from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, it doesn't really matter. They are both included and it tastes like the best of both worlds. This is a continuation of my "resolution" to glean untried recipes from old cookbooks (before going on to purchase new cookbooks). Yes, this recipe requires a bit of coordination and perseverance, but I assure you, this is one of the best chicken salad recipes I have ever made or eaten. The combination of ingredients is satisfying, comforting and somewhat novel. I am a big fan of using a homemade aioli instead of standard mayonnaise. I made the aioli in a food processor, but you can also prepare it in a blender (I would skip the by-hand method, as outlined in the cookbook, at all costs). Serve as recommended in the cookbook on toasted bread (my husband's preference), or stay gluten-free like me and serve atop greens.
Chicken & Egg Salad with Fennel & Lemon Aioli
2 large eggs
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs cooked, or 2 1/4 cups rotisserie chicken, cubed
1/2 cup finely chopped fennel bulb
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fennel fronds, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper
Slices of fresh bread, and/or several leaves of Boston lettuce or similar greens for serving
1 small garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
A couple of gratings of lemon zest
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Lemon juice to taste
Place 2 eggs in a small pot and cover with cold water. Place on the stove over high heat and bring to a boil. Once the water boils, turn the heat down to a simmer and allow to cook for precisely 10 minutes. Remove eggs from water and allow to cool in the refrigerator until adding eggs (peeled and cubed)) to the salad (I followed this method and one egg was released from the shell perfectly, while the second was a little less flawless. Check this method for hard boiled eggs and use the one you prefer). Prepare the ailoi: Mince the garlic clove finely then mix in the table salt using the back of the knife, and create a paste. Add this to the food processor along with the egg yolk, mustard and zest. Process then pause using a spatula to integrate all of the ingredients. Running the machine continuously, add the oil drop by drop for as long as you can stand it until the aioli begins to emulsify. At that point, with the food processor still running, continue to add the oil in a slow steady stream until all of the oil is added. Add the vinegar and a little less than half a lemon. Process again and season to taste. Assemble the salad: Place half of the aioli in a large bowl. Add the chicken, fennel, fennel fronds, and chives; stir well. Add the peeled and cubed boiled eggs, and continue to slowly add the aioli until it reaches the consistency you prefer. Season with fresh pepper and salt to taste. Your choice to serve on toasted bread with lettuce, or serve without bread on top of lettuce. Garnish with remaining chives and fennel fronds. (Serves 3-4)
I have been to épicerie several times since they opened a few years ago in my Rosedale neighborhood, but never for Brunch. Four of us arrived yesterday at 11:30 a.m. to find a full house, but only a short 10 minute wait, so our timing was perfect. Once seated, we perused the concise menu and decided quickly on our order. I had a cappuccino and the Pork Scrapple served with english muffin, scrambled eggs, jalapeno cheddar and shallots. The scrapple (a mixture of pork, cornmeal and spices) had great flavor and was a nice contrast to the soft scrambled eggs. The jalapeño cheddar was very subtle and virtually undetectable, which was fine with me. The shallots and chives on top were a nice added touch.
My husband had a mimosa and the Croque Madame (ham, comte, mornay sauce and fried egg) served with frites. He enjoyed this hearty dish, noting that the bread (possibly a sourdough) was really delicious, the egg was perfectly cooked, and the frites were crispy and tender. My son and his friend shared the Shrimp & Grits which included Anson Mills grits, plump shrimp and green onion. They polished that off quickly and moved on to an order of beignets; three enormous, puffy, billowy doughnuts topped with a generous amount of powdered sugar. I had to have one bite, just to make sure they were still good, and I am happy to say their quality is consistent. If anything, they have gotten larger in size over the years. Beignets are served here all day.
Keith Abate, who has been running Sunday Brunch, the charcuterie program and the daily specials, was recently named chef de cuisine. Compared to Sunday Brunch, épicerie's weekday and Saturday breakfast (which happens Wednesday-Saturday starting at 8:00 a.m.) offers a slightly different menu with items like Pulled Pork & Brown Rice (with fermented kale, soft egg and épicerie hot sauce) and Croque Monsieur. Just one more reason to keep coming back to rediscover this neighborhood gem.
It's a long weekend and there is much going on in the city. KUTX Winter Jam at the AGBG, God and Man: A David Bowie Tribute at Austin Music Hall, Peace Through Pie at Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church, Democratic Debate View Party at Whip In, and MLK Day of Service through United Way.
Citrus Fest at Central Market continues this weekend, which somewhat inspired today's drink from Food Network. I added a bit more blood orange juice than the original recipe suggests, but I think it smooths the taste a bit. Enjoy!
Blood Orange Martini
4 ounces vodka
1/2 ounce triple sec or flavored orange liqueur
3-4 ounces blood orange juice
2 blood orange slices for garnish
In a martini shaker filled with ice, add the vodka, liqueur and blood orange juice. Shake well for 30 seconds. Strain into two martini glass, garnish with orange slices. (Serves 2)
I have a bad habit of scanning a cookbook, marking all the recipes that sound good to me, cooking maybe half of those marked recipes, then moving on to the next new cookbook. I always return to my favorite recipes from each cookbook, but I don't spend the time reviewing the entire book again. I decided that before I buy Yotam Ottolenghi's latest cookbook, Nopi, I need to dive further into Plenty More. That's how I found this overlooked recipe. When I think of risotto, I don't think about adding brussels sprouts to the dish. It is a genius concept, more so for the way in which the ingredient is used; a little less than half is shredded and cooked with the risotto, while the rest is flash fried and added at the end for crispiness and extra depth.
This dish is not difficult, but it requires time to prep and execute (so make it on a weekend when you are not in a rush); the end result is most definitely worth it. Rich and creamy risotto, paired with earthy brussels sprouts (in its two forms) and a bright layer of lemon laced throughout. I recommend prepping all of your ingredients before even turning on a burner since the timing of the dish is critical. I chose to refrain from using the Dolcelatte (an Italian blue cheese) in the recipe due to my own taste and since I knew the dish would be rich enough without it. I only had one lemon, so I used it for the grated lemon zest and skipped the strips of lemon rind (I imagine the dish is made even better with it though). I used chicken stock instead of vegetable broth since that was what I had available in the pantry. Enjoy the dish on it's own or with a light green salad and a glass of white wine.
Brussels Sprouts Risotto
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped (1 1/3 cups)
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
2 lemons, rind shaved in long strips from one; finely grated zest of the other
1 1/2 cups risotto rice (arborio rice)
1 pound trimmed Brussels sprouts, 7 ounces shredded and 11 ounces quartered
1 3/4 cups dry white wine
4 cups vegetable stock (I used chicken stock)
1 2/3 cups sunflower oil
1 1/2 cups Parmesan, roughly grated
2 ounces Dolcelatte, broken into 3/4-inch chunks (I skipped this ingredient)
1/2 cup tarragon, chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Salt and black pepper
In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add butter and olive oil. Once the oil is hot and the butter melted, add onion and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until soft and lightly caramelized. Add garlic, thyme and lemon strips; cook for two minutes more. Add the rice and shredded sprouts, and cook for a minute, stirring often. Pour the wine into the pan and let it simmer for a minute. Add a teaspoon of salt and pepper to taste; stir well. Reduce the heat to medium and start adding the warmed stock, one ladle at a time, stirring often. Don't add the next ladleful of stock until the stock in the pan has reduced almost completely. Continue until the rice is cooked, but still retains a bite, and all the stock is used up, about 15-20 minutes. While the rice is cooking, pour the sunflower oil into another large pan with a minimum 3/4-inch side over high heat. When the oil is very hot, add a handful of the quartered sprouts using a slotted spoon (note: be sure the sprouts are completely dry to avoid oil splatter). Fry for less than a minute, until golden and crisp, then transfer to plate lined with paper towels. Continue this process until all sprouts are fried; keep cooked sprouts warm in the oven on low heat covered with foil. Once the risotto is ready, add Parmesan, dolcelatte, tarragon and half the fried sprouts and stir gently. Serve immediately, garnishing each bowl with remaining sprouts and topping with the grated lemon zest and a sprinkling of lemon juice. (Serves 4)
As predicted, my plan to eat lighter this month flew out the window once this recent cold spell hit. I think balance is the key. This recipe from Gourmet Magazine via Epicurious is a flavorful, hearty dish that will warm you up and help chase away the winter blues. The sausage could be substituted for grilled chicken thighs or pork if you have an aversion to sausage, but the fennel from the sausage lends added depth of flavor on top of the other iterations of fennel in the dish. Response from the family after tasting this one was all positive. When I told them that round lentils and sausage were considered good luck New Year's food, they smiled more broadly (let's just assume the results of eating those foods extend through the month).
Sausage and Lentils with Fennel
1 cup dried lentils (preferably French green lentils; 7 ounces)
4 1/2 cups cold water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 medium (3/4-pound) fennel bulb, stalks discarded, reserving fronds
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 1/4 pounds sweet Italian sausage links
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar, or to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
In a 2-quart heavy saucepan, bring water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil, add lentils, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered until lentils are just tender, but not falling apart, 12-20 minutes (taste the lentils after 12 minutes and retaste every 2 minutes after, if necessary, to achieve the right texture). Reserve 1/4 cup of cooking water, then drain lentils in a colander, set aside. Meanwhile, cut fennel bulb into 1/4-inch dice, reserving 2 tablespoons fennel fronds. In a 4-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, heat 3 tablespoons oil until hot but not smoking. Stir in onion, carrot, fennel bulb, fennel seeds, and remaining teaspoon salt. Cover pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes. While the vegetables cook, lightly prick sausages in a few places with tip of a sharp knife. Cook sausages in remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through, 12-15 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board. Add lentils to vegetables with enough cooking water to moisten a bit, stir and cook over medium heat until heated through. Add parsley, pepper, 1 tablespoon vinegar, and 1 tablespoon fennel fronds, stir well. Serve lentil mixture with sausages, season with vinegar, if desired, and salt. (Serves 4)
More than a few people I have spoken to lately have made the choice to eliminate alcohol during the month of January. Is this a trend or basic common sense? After all of the holiday indulging, it does make sense to allow the liver a detox period. In the January issue of Bon Appétit Magazine, Austin's Launderette is recognized as a spot to get a great non-alcoholic drink. Another is Bar Congress, but just about any place with a bar program should be able to deliver an inventive, fresh drink with no alcohol.
Here's one to try at home from Imbibe Magazine. The pomegranate juice is full of antioxidants and you can control the amount of sugar you use in your homemade ginger syrup. Add a slice of lime if you want a little extra zest.
Pomegranate Ginger Ale
2-inch knob of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup pomegranate juice
16 ounces club soda
In a medium sized pot, heat the sliced ginger, sugar and 2 cups of water over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain the syrup into a large heat-safe container and allow to cool; discard ginger. Add the pomegranate juice and syrup, stir and chill. Once you are ready to make the drink, add 4 ounces of the syrup to a 10-ounce ice-filled glass and top with club soda. Any remaining pomegranate ginger syrup can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week. (Serves 4)
The love of food and how it can bring people together led to the creation of this blog. As a mother of two grown boys, who have left the nest and occasionally return, I noticed a common occurrence-- there is usually someone at home who is hungry.
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