Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cooking With Beer - Shrimp & Beer Risotto

When the theme of the most recent food bloggers' potluck was announced - cooking with beer - I'll admit I was a little skeptical. I had no clue whatsoever what I could make - I was a late bloomer as far as liking beer was concerned, and have never cooked with it before.

I surfed around online a bit seeking inspiration, and all the recipes I was finding just seemed too boring and/or predictable. Then I found this recipe from "My Husband Cooks" for lobster and beer risoto. Instant inspiration.

I ended up fiddling with it just a teeny bit (as usual). First of all, Central Market - where I showed up to buy ingredients for the first time three hours before the potluck was to begin - was out of lobster. I thought I'd use crawfish, but their frozen crawfish tails were $24.99 a pound (for FROZEN crawfish tails! Quelle horreur!) and I thought I needed about two pounds of whatever I was using since I was doubling the recipe, so that just wouldn't do. However, they did have never-frozen Gulf shrimp on sale for an amazing $5.99/lb, so I decided to use shrimp, instead.

Anyway, here is the recipe as I made it, along with some photos of the results (I doubled this recipe for the potluck, and there was a TON of it).


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Shrimp & Beer Risotto

Ingredients:
* 1 lb shrimp - peeled and de-veined
* 2 cups Arborio rice (original recipe suggests Vialone Nano rice as an alternative)
* 2 cups seafood or chicken stock (warm or at least room temperature)(original recipe called for 3 cups; I only ended up needing 2 cups per batch. Also, the original recipe says you can use water instead of stock, but I really think the stock helps balance the beer flavor out.)
* 12 oz. pilsner or hefeweizen (wheat) beer (preferably warm)(I used Shiner hefeweizen)
* 1 stick salted butter
* 1 large yellow onion (diced)
* 4 cloves garlic (minced)
* 1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan
* 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley (chopped)
* 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon thyme (chopped)
* 2 Tbsp. fresh marjoram (chopped)
* 1 Tbsp. olive oil
* 1 Tbsp. honey
* fresh cracked pepper
* salt

Directions:
1. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, then add the shrimp and sautée until they are cooked. Take care not to overcook them, as they will get a little more time on the heat later on with the rice.

2 . In a large pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Once the butter has melted, add the onions. Let cook for a few minutes and then add the garlic. Continue to cook for another few minutes until the onions are translucent.

3. Add the rice to the mixture and begin to let the rice toast. You want it to absorb all of the butter; continue to stir regularly for a few minutes, until the rice is lightly toasted throughout.

4. Add the beer and stir. Continue to stir occasionally until all the beer is absorbed and the rice begins to feel dry. If your beer is cold, you will want to turn up the temperature of the stove briefly to bring the temperature back up on both the rice and the beer.

5. Once the beer has been absorbed, add a cup of broth. Stir regularly until the rice has absorbed the broth, then add another cup of broth, the shrimp, and the herbs. As needed, you can add additional broth until the risotto is done. The goal is to get the rice soft, cooked, and slightly al dente - but not crunchy. It could take as much as 3 cups, but really it’s best if you use your judgment. You need to taste it regularly.

6. Once the risotto has reached the right consistency, add the parmesan and honey. Add salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste. Turn off the heat. Cover and let rest for about 3-5 min. Serve while still hot.

The original recipe estimated the time required to make this at 45 minutes. However, this probably took me closer to 1.5 hours - and I had help peeling and de-veining the shrimp. I am a little slow in the kitchen, but not that slow; it just took a while for the rice to cook on medium heat.

I really loved the way this turned out - very rich and complex, comforting and delicious. The beer and the honey add some interesting notes (subtlely so) that you wouldn't normally expect. I got a lot of compliments on this dish - which made me particularly happy (and relieved) since I didn't have time to test the recipe before making it for the potluck!

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cooking With Beer - Food Bloggers' Potluck, Part IV

Austin food bloggers gathered once again for our bi-monthly potluck - and this time, the theme was cooking with beer.

Would that make this a bockluck?

Our friends at 512 Brewing Company very generously offered up their space for the gathering - and also furnished us with a nice selection of their own great brews on tap to help us wash down the beerlicious bites made by the bloggers.


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Mmmm. Beer.

I really think this was one of the best food blogger potlucks I can remember. Everything I tasted was outstanding - there are so many wonderful ways to use beer in cooking!

Here are just a few of the delicious dishes that were brought (I'll post separately with the recipe for my dish, a shrimp parmesan risotto):

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Fantastic Octoberfest Pizza - topped with German sausage and cabbage braised in Shiner Black. By Kristi Willis of Austin Farm to Table.

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Highly addictive avocado fried in an Ichiban-tempura batter, served with a sriracha-mayo sauce.
By Peter of The Tasting Buds.

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Wonderful Carne Guisada made with Negro Modelo Dark by Carla of Austin Urban Gardens.

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Texas Rarebit (toast points with a chipotle cheddar cheese sauce made with Sierra Nevada Stout) by Catilin of Two Sisters Two Suppers.

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Roasted Apple/Fennel Skewers with Gorgonzola Sauce by Alisha of Kula Catering (there's porter in here somewhere, but I neglected to ask where).

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Another Kula Catering creation - Beer Bread with Gorgonzola Sauce.

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Beautiful little beer bread mini pizzas with goat cheese and caramelized onions,
made by Teddy of Fun With Your Food.

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Lest you think we don't eat anything healthy - Cole Slaw with a Budweiser-based dressing, an offering by Diann of Eat'n Veg'n.

Lest you think we eat too healthy - some lageriffic desserts:

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Beer Pretzel Cashew Caramels, created by Lisa of Lisa Is Cooking.

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Ridiculously moist Real Ale Mini Cakes with Brown Sugar Cream, by Rachel of The Friendly Kitchen.

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The leading edge of a beautiful pumpkin ale cheesecake, courtesy of Jennie a/k/a MisoHungry.

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Utterly scrumptious homemade "punkin" ice cream made with Dogfish Punkin Ale by Stephanie, the Cosmic Cowgirl.

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And last, but certainly not least, a fan-freakin'-tastic "beeramisu" made with Great Divide Brewing Company Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti by Cecelia of Soil to Supper.

If you're not drooling yet, I highly recommend that you take two beers and look again.*

The food bloggers' bockluck - it's good for what ales you.

*(A few more photos from the bockluck can be found here).

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Gorging on a Gorgeous Day - Gourdough's, Bite Mi, and Chen's Noodle House

Ah, Saturday.

I had blissfully NOTHING planned today - I can't even remember the last time I had a day with a completely empty agenda. With all the free time on my hands - not to mention perfect weather, it seemed like a great day to check out some of the eateries on my rapidly-growing "to try" list.

We started at Gourdough's, a little airstream trailer on South Lamar that's been getting lots of buzz for their made-to-order doughnuts in all sorts of wacky combinations. Whether you want Canadian bacon or gummy rattlesnakes on your doughnut, Gourdough's has it all, and they'll gladly pile it on for you.


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A freshly-made Gourdough's doughnut, in its purest form.

Three of us tried two doughnuts - the Sara's Joy (coconut flavored filling with fresh coconut and fudge icing) and the Funky Monkey (grilled bananas with cream cheese icing and a brown sugar baste).

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Sara's Joy - like a candy bar in doughnut form.

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Funky Monkey

The Funky Monkey was by far the crowd favorite - the grilled bananas were beautifully caramelized, and the flavor combination was just excellent. The Sara's Joy was good, too, but so sweet as to be almost too too much. And the coconut "filling," if you could call it that, appeared to be just a sauce on the bottom, rendering the entire thing a gooey, drippy mess.

'Course, we ate it all...so there IS that.

Full Yelp review of Gourdough's here. (4/5 stars.)

* * *

Next up, we decided to try Bite Mi, a new banh mi place on the Drag. Yes, we ate dessert first. Don't try to understand; just follow along.

Full Yelp review of Bite Mi here (3/5 stars), but the short version is that it's OK, not great. Too much bread, too skimpy on the fillings, making for an unbalanced, overly carby meal (unlike those doughnuts, right? Like I said, don't ask too many questions).

Still, not a bad place to tide over those banh mi cravings until you can drive up north to Thanh Nhi and get my favorite banh mi in Austin.

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Pretty tasty spring rolls - three for $3.25

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#1 Combination Banh Mi - three kinds of ham, liver paste, Vietnamese mayo, a carrot/daikon mix, cilantro, and jalapenos.

After this, a nap was in order.

* * *

For dinner, we drove out to Chen's Noodle House, which I've been meaning to try forever but never seemed to be able to get to. Wow - I was SO glad we finally made it.

Again, full Yelp review here (5/5 stars). This unassuming place and its owners turn out amazing, totally authentic Chinese noodle dishes. I was utterly charmed.

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Store front - in an old run down strip mall (same mall as Asia Market/Asia Café).

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Order here - in Mandarin if you can!

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The owner/chef, expertly hand cutting the noodles and flinging them into the boiling water.

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A ton of won ton soup.

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Lamb noodle soup.

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Extreme noodle close-up!

From the hole-in-the-wall surroundings to the wonderful, authentic food, Chen's made me feel as if I'd been transported to China (without the onerous commute). We are so lucky to have a specialty eatery like Chen's; I hope Austin foodies give them the support they deserve.

Now, has anyone seen my muumuu?

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Monday, October 19, 2009

A Woman in Her Forties

My brilliant and beautiful sister-in-law, Roseanne, writes a wonderful blog entitled "A Woman in Her Thirties." Although I can now no longer use this phrase to refer to the things I'm doing, a woman in her forties knows a good thing when she sees it. Roseanne, I hope you don't mind if I adapt and adopt the phrase for my own for one blog post.

A woman in her forties throws her own birthday party.
I knew I really wanted to do something fun and different and interesting to celebrate my 40th birthday (well, besides all the stuff I've already described here and here) (I did warn you that I was celebrating for a week, didn't I?). So I decided to throw myself a little party. I had big dreams of renting a venue and hiring a top-notch caterer, a DJ, and Cory Ryan to do a photobooth, but budgetary realities stepped in and I ended up deciding to do it at home without any of these trappings (although I did finally break down and cater part of it).

Then, much to my delight, my brother and Roseanne decided to fly in for the occasion. And the guest list grew. And although in the end I couldn't invite everyone I wanted to because I didn't think they'd all fit in the house, it turned out to be a pretty wonderful evening.

A woman in her forties sometimes goes off-topic.
I'm not going to highlight food in this blog post because neither the food I served nor the photos I took of said food were particularly remarkable (except for maybe the foie gras I mentioned in this post). However, I do need to thank two of my friends who showed up at the party with special treats. My friend Phillip arrived bearing an incredibly decadent chocolate raspberry truffle cake from Central Market, and Jennie Chen appeared pulling a cooler larger than herself filled with four dozen of what she knows to be my favorite cupcake in the universe, her very own (super secret) recipe, the tipsy ispahan. I dubbed Jennie my food event sugar mama in this post; she has now officially graduated to being my sugar mama, period.

A woman in her forties is surprised.
As if all that weren't enough, just as we were about to cut the cake(s), Chris shushed everybody and then revealed that he had been secretly gathering letters for me from many of my family members, co-workers, neighbors, and friends, and that he had compiled them into a book with the help of my dear friend Liz. I was absolutely stunned, then of course started with the waterworks when they presented me with this gorgeous volume. I read the entire thing cover to cover that very night (after the last of the guests departed at 1:30 a.m.). It is, without a doubt, one of the most meaningful gifts I have ever received in my life.


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A woman in her forties is grateful.
Here's the mushy part. Birthdays are always a time when I feel particularly thankful for all the wonderful people who surround me. My family, who shaped the person I am today and who have loved and supported me through thick and thin for 40 years (36.5 years, in Larry's case, and 7 for Roseanne, who is as great an addition to our family as I could ever have imagined). Chris, my best friend and my rock. Mindy, the furry love of my life. My co-workers, who put up with my idiosyncrasies for more hours in the day than anyone should have to. And of course my friends, with whom I've shared many laughs, a few tears, and countless fabulous meals. I am unbelievably fortunate to have the love and support of so many phenomenal people. And in a decade year, well, all of that gratefulness seems to be somehow magnified until it is very nearly overwhelming.

So I just want to say thanks, from the bottom of my heart.

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A woman in her forties basks in the glow of the past, and looks forward to the next forty years.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Livin' La Dolce Vita

When a person enters a new decade, it seems only appropriate to celebrate for at least a week. Which is how I found myself at La Dolce Vita tonight, thanks to the wonderful generosity of Jennie Chen (who shall also henceforth be known as my food event sugar mama).

Wow - what an amazing event. Whoever put this thing together should be commended. A fundraiser for the Austin Museum of Art, La Dolce Vita (Italian for "the sweet life") is held on the gorgeous grounds of Laguna Gloria and, at $100+ a head, attracts a staggering crowd (early press estimated attendance at 1600, but I would not be at all surprised if it exceeded that, as the expansive grounds were elbow-to-elbow people). Everyone was dressed in their finest, and it was quite the swanky affair.

And the food...oh, the food! Some sixty restaurants and fourteen purveyors of wine and spirits participated, and it sure seemed as if everyone brought their A-game. It got dark not long after I arrived and between the crowds and the lack of surfaces upon which to set things down, most of my photos are pretty sad, but here, for your viewing pleasure, are a few of the ones that turned out (and some of the ones that didn't).

First of all...LOVE these plates. I've seen these before, but have never had anybody hand me a free one at an event before. Hold your food and your wine and have one hand free! (Now if they could just install a little tripod, I'd be all set).


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Amaaaaazing cake balls from Austin Cake Ball. Moist, rich yet still fluffy, lovely crumb, FULL of flavor. Their competition had me believing that I didn't really like cake balls. SO not the case. Loved these.

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Beautiful, too!

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Homemade Oreos from Perla's.
(When you're 40, you get to eat dessert first.)

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Shrimp and salmon (er, I think) cakes from Austin newcomer, The Highball. Bowling, karaoke, skeeball, cocktails, and (apparently, delicious) dining can all be found here. Must check this place out.

So sad these photos didn't come out better. My favorite booth of the evening, and the one that received my "green marble" vote for best restaurant, The Driskill Grill. As evidenced by their work at the recent Chef Showdown, the Driskill has really been pulling out all the stops on presentation and originality. They had three selections - a beef tartare, a tuna tartare with fresh figs, and a foie gras with dried fruit relish and mint. Foie gras at an event where the food is presumably donated is impressive in my book (and it was the only thing I ate more than one of other than the cake balls). All were served on beautiful flat rock surfaces with a pile of dry ice stacked in the middle, and all came with an ingenius "push-up" popsicle of the wonderful cilantro sorbet they'd had at the Chef Showdown.

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Beef tartare from the Driskill Grill - not the greatest photo,
but the best of the several I took at the Driskill booth.

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Braised oxtail with pumpkin puree on a wonton chip from Max's Wine Dive.

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Wasabi-crusted salmon roll from Piranha Killer Sushi.

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Raw salmon with gala apple, pommery mustard, thyme, and chives from Parkside.

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Ahi poketini on a wonton chip from Roy's.

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The Whole Foods Culinary Center dubbed this "green eggs and ham." It was actually a perfectly-crisped potato cake topped with pork belly confit (!!) and an herbed hollandaise sauce. Sam I Am would've loved this version, and I did too...as well as the beautiful pressed bamboo plates.

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Lemon and garlic rock shrimp with smoked tomato and lobster bisque
from Stories at the Hyatt Lost Pines.

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And one more dessert - a sassy chocolate-y number from Annie's.

I simply cannot think of a nicer way to spend a gorgeous fall evening in Austin. Eating well, visiting with great people, and supporting a terrific cause - it doesn't get any better than that. La dolce vita, indeed.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Foodie is the new...

Well, if my blog title is right, I am officially a foodie as of today.

As one might expect, my birthday certainly saw its share of eating. I have a birthday twin at work, Linda, and she and I chose Yanagi (which is near our office) for our joint birthday meal. (My [previously-written] Yelp review of Yanagi is here). They did not disappoint; fresh sushi and friendly service for a boisterous group of eleven, all at very reasonable prices.


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Sushi combo lunch special with crunchy roll - $14.95 for all this, plus miso soup!

They heard it was our birthdays, so they gave us each a lovely mochi dessert, too. Despite the fact that we had cake waiting at the office, we couldn't possibly turn this down (although we did share). It was wonderful - I never thought to drizzle honey on my mochi, but it added a nice depth to the flavor, particularly on the mango version (there was also a green tea version, which I didn't photograph).

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Did I mention that we had cake waiting at the office? Oops.

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I had to run an errand after work and got a couple of birthday phone calls, so didn't get around to dinner until nearly 9:00. I was starting to get tired and a little chilly from our gray, cooler weather, and developed a craving for Thai food - specifically, good pad thai, the way I make it. Unfortunately, I was too tired to make it myself, and Austin has a sad dearth of good pad thai, so I made do with the pad thai at Titaya's. It was WAY too saucy, but at least satisfied my spicy noodle craving. I think I may downgrade my Titaya's review to three stars, though; the last couple of times I've been there, I haven't been all that enthusiastic about my food.

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Saucy...not in the good way.

I did, however, enjoy my banana roll dessert (mangoes with sticky rice are out of season, now. Boo.).

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Apparently, it was unauthentic-Thai-food day.

Lest you think I'm going to end my birthday blog on such an uninspired note, I also must share the unbelievably decadent gift that my dear friend Peter (one of the few people I know whose passion for food may very well exceed my own) sent me last Friday in honor of my 40th. A gigantic basket from Hudson Valley Foie Gras, overflowing with duck leg confit, smoked magret duck breasts, a HUGE raw duck breast, Italian fig syrup, petit toasts, and, the crowning glory, a massive tub of foie gras mousse. I squealed aloud when I opened this.

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If it tastes like a duck...

Despite a fully booked food weekend, I at least managed to break out one of those smoked duck breasts for lunch on Sunday. Just LOOK at this gorgeousness.

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If you can distract yourself from this stunning breast for a moment, you'll notice that I also got a new light box as an early birthday gift. Yay!

I piled the breast slices on a toasted ciabatta roll, added some lovely melted comté, arugula, and a spread I made by mixing mayo with some cherry jam my friend Mia had recently brought me from The Cherry Hut in Beulah, Michigan. Absolutely fantastic.

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It's an embarassment of riches around here. Really. Thank you all for a delicious forty years.

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