Friday, December 23, 2011

Black Pepper Butter Cookies

I was recently invited to a cookie swap at my dear friend Carla's house, and went on the hunt for a fun new cookie recipe to try. Inspired by a toe-curlingly delicious black pepper creme brulée I'd tasted earlier this month at Peché, I went on the hunt for a cookie that could similarly evoke that delightful "sweet, but reminiscent of something savory" flavor that the creme brulée had for me.

I lighted upon this recipe, and went to work. I followed the recipe pretty much as written, except that I rolled the cookies slightly larger (1/2 inch balls are awfully small!) and didn't press them down as much as the author seems to have based on the photos. The recipe made quite a few more cookies than it said it would - I made 1-1/2 times the recipe, which was supposed to yield 72 cookies, and ended up with twice that many! No matter, though; they are quite small (they don't spread much), so you really won't mind having an army of them.


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Ready for baking

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Stack o' yum

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Behold the butter cookie!

Buttery. Sweet. But not too sweet, and with a subtle, black peppery bite. Winner!

I'm making more tomorrow.

* * * * *

Black Pepper Butter Cookies

This recipe is supposed to yield 4 dozen cookies. Even if you roll the balls to about 1" in diameter, I think you will get at least double that.

Ingredients:

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup sweet unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 teaspoons black pepper
extra sugar, for dipping glass

Directions:

Mix all ingredients (except for the extra sugar for dipping the glass) together well using a heavy duty mixer.

Roll the dough into balls about 1" in diameter. I used a 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon to scoop the dough as I was rolling my cookies, and that seemed to work pretty well.

Use the flat base of a drinking glass that has been dipped into sugar to gently flatten each dough ball on the cookie sheets. Don't worry; the sugar WILL stick to the glass after you press your first butter-laden cookie!

Bake in a preheated 350˚ F (or 180˚ C) oven for 8-11 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges. Do not overbake.

Remove to wire racks to cool.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Tour of Noodles & Company - and a GIVEAWAY!

I became convinced of the efficacy of low-carb diets way back in the early 90's sometime. Unfortunately for Dr. Atkins and his carb-eschewing brethren, though, I was a devotee of carbs for too long before that to be able to permanently change my ways.

So when the lovely Lisa O'Neill emailed me to ask whether I'd be interested in doing a complimentary media tasting at Noodles & Company, well, I couldn't resist.

Noodles & Company is a chain that started in Colorado, and that has newly expanded to the Austin market. They opened two locations in rapid succession - one on Anderson Lane and one on the Drag - and have a third, Arboretum location on the way early next month. They serve made-to-order pasta dishes, sandwiches, salads and soups from three different genres: Asian, Mediterranean, and American. I'm typically skeptical of places that offer more than one specific type of cuisine, but the tie that binds here is a proficiency at cooking pasta just right and using that as a springboard for a variety of different sauces and styles.

While I don't typically consider large chain restaurants a part of my "beat" as a food blogger, I ultimately decided to cover it for two reasons: first, because it's new to the scene; and second, because - let's face it - sometimes we need food quickly and on a budget, and I don't know of any local business occupying the pasta-as-fast-food niche. Below is the little tour of the Noodles & Company menu that I received. While you look at these photos, please keep in mind that every single one of the dishes pictured below was served to me and one other person. When Lisa said I was getting a tour, I didn't realize that she actually meant a smorgasbord.

They started us with a couple of salads and an order of their chicken potstickers:

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Mediterranean salad - romaine, mixed greens, tomato, cucumbers, red onion, olives, cavatappi pasta, and feta, topped with a spicy yogurt dressing. Loved the dressing - it had a nice little kick to it!

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Spinach salad with homemade croutons, pecans, strawberries, blue cheese, red onions, bacon, and a balsamic fig glaze. If you like strawberry spinach salads, this one is an very nice example at this price point ($4.25 for a small; $5.35 for a regular).


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Chicken potstickers $2.95 for three; $4.95 for six) - I knew they'd have to do the most convincing with me on the Asian dishes, and I was right. These potstickers were good enough, but they were oddly flat instead of round, and they definitely were not my mom's potstickers.

Then came a couple of sandwiches with soups:

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Mmmeatball sandwich, served with chicken noodle soup. I would never in a million years have chosen this from the menu, but I was surprised at how much I liked it. The sandwiches are all served with your choice of any soup or salad, and ring in at $6.99 - very affordable when you consider the portion size.


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Mediterranean sandwich (chicken, mushrooms, spinach, red bell peppers, cucumber, red onion, cilantro, feta, and that same spicy dressing from the Mediterranean salad, served on flatbread). Very fresh and bright, and loaded with juicy cucumber. This one came with a side of their Thai curry soup, which had a lovely, comforting sweet note to it. I'm not sure I would have put this combination together, but it wasn't objectionable, either, and I would absolutely order either one (and maybe even both together) on a return visit.


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Japanese pan noodles - carmelized udon noodles in a sweet soy sauce, with broccoli, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, black sesame, and cilantro. This dish had a stick-to-your-ribs quality to it that would be great in cold weather. I'd love to try it with beef (ours came with tofu, which had a nice, sautéed finish).


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Pad thai with shrimp. This is a dish that I almost can never bring myself to order in restaurants, because I so prefer my own interpretation, which is heavy on spice (read: garlic) and probably nothing like what pad thai is really supposed to taste like. Restaurant pad thai is invariably way too sweet for me. This version was no exception, although I'd say it held its own in the restaurant pad thai universe.

This was right about the time that Jason, our host, told us we were half done.

I went and picked up a large stack of to-go boxes.

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Pasta Fresca - penne with balsamic, olive oil, white wine and roasted garlic, tossed with tomato, spinach, red onion, and feta. I think this was my least favorite of all the dishes we ate that day - the balsamic was a little overpowering, and made the dish taste like it was a salad as opposed to an entrée.

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Penne Rosa - penne in a spicy tomato cream sauce with mushrooms, tomato, spinach, wine, and parmesan.

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Wisconsin mac 'n' cheese. Doesn't really require any explanation, does it? This one was served with a really lovely parmesan-crusted chicken breast.

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One of their seasonal specials, the chili mac. Mac 'n' cheese smothered in chili.

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Aaaaand my hands-down favorite of the day, their truffle mac. Mac 'n' cheese topped with baby portabellas, white truffle oil (purrrrrrr!) and parmesan. YES. I loved this so much that I ordered some huge bowls of it with the cavatappi pasta (the curly pasta from the first salad) and served it to my Wine Club. Two of my friends who are excellent chefs took doggie bags home with them...a strong endorsement, indeed.

Jason topped us off with the largest wedge of rice crispie treat I have ever seen in my life, and two huge cookies, both of which were delicious when I ate them much, much, much later. The rice crispie treat was soft and delightful - they make these twice a day to ensure that you get them while they're still gooey.

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We had a week's worth of lunches to spare.

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Stuff you should know:
• Everything is prepared to order. Substitutions are totally okay. You want stroganoff, only with udon noodles? No problem (but just know that you're weird).
• LOTS of vegetarian-friendly options. All the dishes, with one exception (the pad thai, which has fish sauce in the sauce) are prepared vegetarian. You choose your own protein (or no protein).
• Unfortunately, the only dish that is gluten-free is the pad thai. You can substitute GF rice noodles in any dish, but most of the sauces have at least some gluten in them.

* * *

If you made it this far, you deserve to WIN SOMETHING. Noodles & Company very generously gave me some coupons for free entrées so you can come in and try their offerings for yourselves. Four lucky winners will each get a pair of coupons so they can treat a friend to a meal, too! Or use them both yourself - I won't tell. Coupons expire on December 31, 2011, so you'll need to use them before the end of the year.

To enter, please leave a comment below telling me which of Noodles & Co's entrées you'd most like to try. So many pastabilities to choose from! (groan). Please be sure I have some way of contacting you if you win.

For a second entry, "Like" this blog's Facebook page and leave a comment here letting me know you've done so (if you've already "Liked" it, you can just let me know that in your first comment).

Entries close at 5:00 p.m. CST on Sunday, December 4th. I'll choose a winner using random.org sometime that night. Even if you don't live in Austin, feel free to enter if there is a Noodles & Company in your city! The coupons do not restrict use to Austin.

Good luck!

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Day I Became a Sandwich Lover: Lucky's Puccias

Have you ever had the experience of eating something so amazing that you immediately regretted all those previous meals that didn't involve said item?

That happened to me last week during my first visit to Lucky's Puccias.


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Nestled on the patio of the Tiniest Bar in Texas, Lucky's offers up wood-fired Italian sandwiches. Now, sandwiches aren't usually my first choice when it comes to selecting a meal; I love bread, but for some reason, I don't usually want it taking up so much space in the main course compartment of my plate. But the wood-fired goodness that is Lucky's puccia bread is more like soft, airy, fragrant pizza dough. Nestle some paper-thin prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, juicy tomato, peppery arugula, basil oil (!!!), and chipotle mayo up in there, and you've got yourself a serious treat.

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The Lucky's Puccia, $9.25

They don't bake the bread till you order it, so it comes out hot and fresh and warms up the ribbons of prosciutto so that they very nearly melt in your mouth. Seriously, I'm getting all verklempt over here just thinking about this thing.

Which is why I'm adding this more or less redundant post to the chorus of bloggers and Yelpers and other food writers who have already covered this place - in case there is a single poor soul out there who hasn't been, perhaps I might help light their path to the mecca that is Lucky's Puccias.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Food Photo Friday - Walton's Fancy & Staple

I should have styled this sandwich better. But the scent of the pastrami was wafting suggestively up at me, and the come-hither ooze of the mustard was too much to bear. So I'm afraid you'll have to settle for this "quickie" shot of my pastrami sandwich lunch from Walton's Fancy & Staple.


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I love Walton's. Their sandwich prices are a little on the fancy side, but the sweet delights beckoning from the bakery counter are surprisingly affordable. And everything I've tasted here has fit perfectly with the charming and sunny space. In the beauty pageant of lunch spots, this Miss Congeniality has a real shot at the crown.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

La Dolce Vita

Ah, fall. The departure of summer in Austin always has us all breathing a sigh of relief - particularly this year, when the relentless parade of 100+ degree temps coupled with one of the worst droughts Central Texas has ever seen had us all wondering whether summer would ever leave again. But sure enough, the temperatures have magically dropped (to the mid-80s, mind you), which means it was time for another round of one of my favorite fundraisers in Austin, La Dolce Vita.

I have previously blogged about this fantastic event, so I won't go into all the gory details, but it is for sure one of the best food events in Austin. Hats off to the amazing folks who put together the staggering list of fabulous restaurants and wine & spirits purveyors who participate every year.

I didn't take a lot of photos this year; juggling a plate, a wine glass, a camera, and my nerd lights in the midst of what is always a pressing crowd is a little harrowing, to say the least. But I did at least manage to snap a pic of my favorite bite of the evening, a stunning pork belly and foie paté banh mi from a restaurant that has yet to open, Swift's Attic. They are currently under construction in the space that formerly housed Kyoto, and hope to open in December of this year. If this bite of utter decadence was any indication, it should be well worth a visit.


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I also loved these salmon rolls from Imperia - nori pastry cones filled with miso salmon tartare and topped with cured salmon skin and ikura (salmon roe).

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Other favorite bites: duck two ways over a wonderful quinoa from Paggi House (their panna cotta was also to die for); and braised short ribs over pumpkin puree from Moonshine.

Here's my Instagrammed photo of the band, which was excellent - does anybody know who they were?

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I ate and drank myself silly. This performance artist from last year's La Dolce Vita perfectly summarized how I felt by the end of the evening.

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Friday, September 30, 2011

Food Photo Friday - La Sombra

Setting aside my inane desire to break out in a chorus of "La Bomba" every time I walk in the door, La Sombra has grown on me since my first visit during their soft opening last summer. I love their empanadas, their quail skewers, and that crazy chacero sandwich packed with hangar steak, French green beans, avocado, and some other stuff that nobody cares about because the first three ingredients have stolen the show.

On my most recent visit, I tried their special, a nod to Asian influences on Latin American cuisine. Asian style noodles were tossed with tender mussels and Chinese sausage and finished with a sprinkling of scallions. It was beautiful.


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Our server, Scott, was an absolute prince when we sent the first plate back to the kitchen and brought a second plate that was significantly less salty and, not coincidentally, also significantly more delicious. Service like that will keep me coming back to a place. Especially if that place is close to my house and allows dogs on their patio.

I wonder if I can teach Mindy to dance to Ricky Martin.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ya? Ya! YaYa Cafe and Shaved Ice

Open a solid Asian restaurant in Austin, and I will appreciate you.

Open a solid Asian restaurant in Central Austin within a few miles of my house that is open until 10:00 p.m., and I will kiss your feet and throw rose petals on the path before you.

OK, maybe not. But I will eat there. Often. And I will be deeply grateful.

It was with high hopes that I darkened the doors of YaYa Cafe and Shaved Ice for the first time a few weeks ago. I sampled their spring rolls, a pork vermicelli bowl, and the wonton soup.


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The spring rolls were a little on the soft side, which made them a little difficult to eat - they didn't hold together as well as I would've liked. But they were still a nice treat, and the accompanying peanut sauce laced with chili had just the right measures of both sweet and heat to keep things interesting.

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The vermicelli was fresh and well-made. The pork had a nice char on it, and wonderful flavor. There was a fair amount of lettuce filler on the bottom, but the serving bowl was huge, so the portion was still plenty for me.

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This wonton soup wasn't mine, but of course I tasted it anyway. The soup could've used a little bit more oomph, but the wonton skins were happily quite delicate, and avoided the coarseness often found in restaurant wonton. I was impressed.

A second visit ensued within the week. This time, I was there for lunch, and tried their iced tea. Jasmine in just the right measure mixed with a quality green tea had me swooning; I asked where they acquired it, and was told they import it from Hong Kong. I guess I'll have to come here to get my fix.

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This time, I sampled my friend's cabbage salad. At first I thought it was too bland, but later bites revealed that it was just a little unevenly dressed, and the well-dressed bites were fresh and delicious.

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I was pleased to discover that their banh mi also hold their own; clearly my favorites in the Central Austin banh mi landscape, although that field is admittedly painfully small.

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YaYa's may not be a deeply authentic Vietnamese food experience, but the flavors I encountered here suggested to me that there is someone in the kitchen with a keen palate who cares about what's landing on the table in front of you. I feel quite sure that I'll be back frequently, and I'm thrilled that they've brought quality Vietnamese food to Central Austin.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Food Photo Friday - Dai Due

Our friends from Bola Pizza weren't at the downtown Austin SFC Farmer's Market last Saturday, so we were forced to eat outside the box. Fortunately, the folks at Dai Due had our backs with this decadent maple pork belly on Texas toast with a fried duck egg on top. It was a great way to start the weekend.


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Although I didn't get a photo of them, the peaches from Lightsey Farms were phenomenal. Truly as sweet as candy; I hope they're there this weekend.

What are your favorite farmer's market finds?

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hidden Gem: Al Sur Latin American Bistro

One of the reasons I write this blog is that I love connecting people to the things they need. I enjoy helping folks find everything from the best al pastor in town to the perfect restaurant for their Aunt Gussie's 90th birthday luncheon. On the flip side, I am passionate about spreading the word about hardworking business owners who are making a go of their dream and need some help getting customers in the door.

I've recently discovered a restaurant that falls into the latter category, Al Sur Latin American Bistro. Saying that I "discovered" it actually means that I finally made my way over to try a place that Yelpers and Chowhounders have been raving about for the seven months it's been open. But both times I've visited, the place has been nearly empty. I just don't understand why it's not getting more traffic; it certainly should be.

As is obvious by the name, Al Sur serves Latin American cuisine, and - full disclosure, here - I know precious little about that food genre. What I do know is that I enjoyed two reasonably-priced, delicious meals there, and that the owner, Boris, engaged us in friendly conversations both times. The decor is pretty sparse, but what Al Sur lacks in showiness it makes up for in heart. Here's a little tour of what we've tried so far.


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Complimentary chips & salsa. The salsa has a hearty, smoky flavor.

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House salad ($4.95). The dressing is creamy, but light - and sure tastes house-made. I loved the fried green plantains that accompanied it.

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Papas a la huancaina (oven-roasted potatoes topped with a huancaina sauce and a partial ear of choclo)($5.50). This is more carb-heavy than I typically order, but it was tasty, and the huge, chewy kernels on the choclo were a treat.

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Empanadas ($4.85 for three - your choice of ground beef/potatoes or chicken). These are a real bargain. They're fried and wonderfully flaky, and the chimichurri served with it packs a delightful, garlicky punch.

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Speaking of garlicky punch, these Camarones al mojo de ajo ($11.45) meld the age-old (and winning) combination of garlic, butter and shrimp. Never mind that the shrimp are still swimming; I like them that way, thank you very much.

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Pescado en salsa capers ($10.45). The chef here clearly shares my belief that seafood is just too healthy on its own, so dousing it in buttery or creamy sauces is a good plan. The plentiful capers added a nice zing.

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The crowning glory, the crepas de cajeta ($6.85). Fantastic crepes with just the right amount of egg-y flavor, adorned with creamy cajeta, pecans, and vanilla ice cream. Heaven.

Al Sur resides in the same strip mall as the Cap City Comedy Club, right near 183 and Lamar. Hurry over and support Boris and his crew; you won't be disappointed.

Al Sur Latin American Bistro
8120 Research Blvd.
Austin, TX 78758
(512) 419-7554
Their website
Their Facebook page

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Sunday, July 31, 2011

GIVEAWAY! Buy With Me Voucher for the new BLVD Espresso & Dessert Bar

I swear, I think it is just too damn hot to blog. Yes, I know that it doesn't make sense to say it's too hot to sit inside my air-conditioned house and write a blog post, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Since there isn't much to see here at the moment, perhaps you should leave your computer and check out BLVD Espresso & Dessert Bar, a new addition to the 2nd Street District (where Teuscher used to be, may it RIP).


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BLVD Espresso & Dessert Bar

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BLVD Espresso & Dessert Bar

BLVD offers coffee and tea drinks (including local favorites Cuvee Coffee and Zhi tea) pastries from Bakerman's, a selection of chocolate bars and other goodies, and a small assortment of gelatos from TEO to help cool your insides while you're cooling your heels in their lovely climate-controlled environment.

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Wonderful strawberry sorbetto!

Deal site BuyWithMe Austin has generously contributed one of their $10 BLVD vouchers to give away to a lucky blog reader! BuyWithMe sells deals to local businesses for up to 90% off - their website is linked above, and you can also stay apprised of their deals with the help of their Facebook page and Twitter account.

Here's how you enter:
1. "Like" Buy With Me Austin's Facebook page. Leave a comment here telling me you've done so. You MUST do this to enter the drawing.

2. For one additional entry, you can "Like" this blog's Facebook page. Then leave a comment here telling me you've done so. If you've already done so previously, that'll work - just leave a comment telling me!

3. For one more additional entry, tweet the following: "Visit @foodiethenew40's blog to win a $10 @BuyWithMeAustin voucher for BLVD Espresso & Dessert! http://bit.ly/ob2rEY".

That's it! Entries will close at 6:00 p.m. CST on Wednesday, August 3rd, and I'll pick a winner that night.

Good luck, and stay gold, Ponyboy!

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Food Photo Friday - Seaweed Salad

If you were to create a Venn diagram of the set of food that is tasty and the set of food that is healthy, the intersection of the two sets would be pitifully small. See for yourself:


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One dish that hangs out in that intersection also happens to be one of my favorite things - seaweed salad. The cool, fresh crunch of the seaweed and the fragrant sesame oil are the perfect antidote to the oppressive heat outside.

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According to Livestrong, seaweed salad helps you lose weight by discouraging fat absorption.

Does this mean I can have another spider roll? If so, please pass the seaweed salad.

What are your favorite healthy foods?

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Food Photo(s) Friday - Hopdoddy Heaven

Hello, Lover.


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It may not be winning any awards for healthiest meal, but daaaaaaamn, it's worth it. Hopdoddy's burgers are my favorites in town, hands down. So juicy, so thick, so meaty, so de-luscious. And their fries aren't too shabby, either. They grind their own beef and cut their own fries from Kennebec potatoes. Everything is just so fresh and amazing.

I usually get the Greek burger. Lamb, feta cheese, arugula, pickled red onions, and tzatziki sauce. In other words, heaven in a perfect house-made bun.

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Speaking of their house-made buns, they also offer house-made puns.

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Be sure to grab a beer to go with your meal. Hopdoddy's is always served ice-cold in huge, frosty mugs. A perfect way to wash it all down.

Is it lunchtime, yet?

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Food Photo(s) Friday - Hot Dog King

Workin' all week, 9 to 5 for my money
So when I go out to eat it had better be yummy
Rollin' down the street, I saw this food truck it was pumpin'
I winked my eye, got outta my ride, walked on over, it was jumpin'
Checked the menu; finally said, "A Deer Dog's my desire,"
She said, "One venison dog comin' up, baby doll - and these jalapenos are on fire,"
Word to the ranks: if you want a great frank, look no further than Hot Dog King
They're so all right that baby, just one bite will make you want to do the wild thing.

- Wild Thing, revised (with apologies to Ton Loc)


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Deer Dog made with local smoked venison sausage (onions and jalapenos are add-ons) - $4

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Chili cheese dog (Fritos added!) - $5 (without the Fritos)

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The King.*

*Actually, THIS is a picture of The King. And it is awesome.

Hot Dog King
8th and Red River Streets
Austin, Texas
Their website

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