Friday, January 28, 2011

Food Photo Friday - Haddington's Stuffed Trout

With all the new restaurants that seem to be opening at the moment, I'm stuffing new menus into my face faster than I can blog about them (not that that's anything new). I finally got to check out Haddington's at lunch time on Wednesday, which is where this week's food photo was taken. This stuffed trout entrée was spectacular. A whole trout was grilled and stuffed with fennel, pine nuts, and grapes. It was as tender and moist as trout gets, and the stuffing was fabulous. Unfortunately, it was my friend's order...but happily, he was generous enough to share.


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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Matcha Green Tea Shortbread Cookies

Last weekend, I was invited to attend a Lunar New Year hot pot party thrown by my friends Jennie and John. I cast about a bit looking for a fun idea for something to bring, and finally landed upon For Two, Please's lovely blog and their post about Matcha Green Tea Shortbread Cookies. Well, once I took a gander at those verdant treats, I knew I had to make them.

I was not disappointed. Neither my photos nor my cookies are as beautiful as theirs, but I was pleased with the way the cookies tasted. They're the texture of shortbread, only a little bit lighter, and the matcha perfumes the process of both making and eating them with the rich scent of green tea. If you live in Austin, both Whole Foods locations sell matcha in bulk, so you can get just the amount you need (surprisingly, Central Market does not). Of course, if you drink matcha anyway, by all means, buy a big canister of it!

Each batch of the recipe makes about 30-35 cookies, depending on the size of your cutter.

You'll wish you had more.


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Saturday, January 22, 2011

The 2011 Keeper Collection Wine Ride

What happens when you take five sommeliers, give each one a blogger, a photographer, and a Twitter guru, and send them to four different locations around Austin with the mission to create the perfect pairing at each? If you answered "media frenzy," you are correct about that - but it's also the Keeper Collection Wine Ride, an event in which I was delighted to participate last weekend.

So, here's how it worked. Each team went to four different locations - Antonelli's Cheese, FINO, Foreign & Domestic, and Central Market Cooking School. At each location, they had several dishes, a couple of wines, and ten minutes to create the "perfect pairing."

I was excited to be chosen as a location blogger, on site at one of my favorite places, Antonelli's Cheese (which I previously blogged about here). The Antonellis chose six different cheeses for the somms to try - a gorgeous Coupole, an overripe Tomme Crayeuse (not to be confused with a certain Scientologist), a Majorero, an Ossau Iraty, Pleasant Ridge Reserve (named Best in Show at the American Cheese Society show three years in a row!), and a Dante. The two wines available to the somms at our location were a 2008 Domaine D'Ardhuy Ladoix Rouge les Chagnots Monopole and an N.V. Thierry Massin Brut Champagne.


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Lots o' cheesy goodness

The Tomme Crayeuse was my hands-down favorite - so creamy and smooth and lush with a surprising note reminiscent of the richest whipped cream at the end. Heavenly.

What was cool about being a location blogger is that I got to see the different approaches each of the somms had to pairing. The first somm, June Rodil of Congress, was so delightful and engaging. She laughed as she explained that the "feet smell" in some cheeses pairs well with the minerality of champagne, adding that the key to a cheese pairing is to highlight the cheese without overwhelming it. Ultimately, June chose the Pleasant Ridge Reserve with the Ladoix as her perfect pairing. "The earthiness of the Pleasant Ridge is really singing to me right now," she enthused. "It makes the fresh cherry tones in the wine blossom."

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June Rodil makes sniffing wine look glamorous

The next somm was Mark Sayre from TRIO at the Four Seasons. Unlike June, who tasted the food first, Mark first tasted the wines. "We're looking for a match that makes both [the food and the wine] better," he explained. He considered pairing the Dante with the Ladoix, saying that the higher acidity of the crunchy red fruits were a good match for the cheese, but in the end, he paired the champagne with the coupole, declaring, "the acidity of the white and the tanginess of the coupole are undeniable."

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Mark Sayre checking out the cheeses

Next to arrive on the scene was Jason Huerta of Pappas Bros Steakhouse in Dallas. Jason chose my favorite pairing of the day - the Tomme Crayeuse with the Ladoix. "This is outside the box," he said. "I normally pair white wine with cheese, but this is the pairing that's popping for me. The Tomme isn't my favorite cheese, but it is magic with the red."

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Jason Huerta getting a cheese tour from Kendall Antonelli

Sommelier Eric Hastings from Eddie V's in Houston arrived next. A former hockey player, Eric was as down-to-earth and approachable as they come. He seemed more like the kind of guy you'd find downing a draft than working towards a Master Sommelier Diploma, but his pairing, the Ossau Iraty with the champagne, was delicious.

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Eric on the receiving end of Marshall Wright's discerning lens.

Last, but certainly not least, Somm Scott Barber from Centennial Wine & Spirits in Dallas arrived with his entourage. Although I didn't get a good photo of each of the teams, the one below gives you a feel for what these somms were dealing with at each location - a slew of ardent onlookers noting and documenting their every word, a photographer, a interested restauranteur, and ten minutes to taste all the food and the wines and create the perfect pairing. No pressure, right?

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Scott with his winetourage.

Scott asked where the cheeses were from, which I thought was interesting - he explained that knowing the region where a cheese is made helps identify what flavors to expect. Although he usually pairs hard cheeses with red wine and soft cheeses with whites, he joined Jason Huerta in choosing my favorite pairing of the day - the Tomme Crayeuse with the Ladoix. "The Ladoix makes the Tomme explode with a deeper dimension," he proclaimed. "The wine makes the cheese better; the cheese makes the wine better - boom - that's why we do this."

I learned a ton about wine pairings during the Wine Ride, but I think my favorite lesson is that there's really no right answer. With just twelve different possible pairings, only two of the five highly qualified somms chose the same pairing - which tells me that a person's individual tastes are an important part of finding the perfect pairing. Like so many other challenges, you arrive armed with as much knowledge in your toolbox as you can, then choose the path that best suits you. Works for me.

Keeper Collection is giving out prizes for the Most Educational 2011 Wine Ride Somm - a secured spot in their new Somms Under Fire competition! Check out the somm videos and team blog posts, and vote for your favorite somm here and your favorite blogger/photographer/tweeter combo here.

Oh, and just because there hasn't been nearly enough food porn in this post, here's a pretty picture from you from the Wine Ride Afterparty at Uchiko. Eggplant nigiri...yeah, baby.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Food Photo Friday - Braised Pork Belly

How can you not love pork belly? Particularly when it's a lovely bit from a pasture-raised, hormone-free, antibiotic-free piggy who grew up at Richardson Farm. This tasty bite was braised and joined by other interesting bits like organic banana purée and pineapple confit, then consumed by me at a blogger tasting at TRACE in the new W hotel.


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Every meal at TRACE should be chased with a black peppercorn martini (Stolichnaya Applik, Hendrick's gin, port, black peppercorn syrup, fresh lime, fresh basil, and muddled strawberries), sipped while lounging about jauntily in the red room a couple rooms away from the restaurant. You can play Big City for a few hours, then wander back outside and revert to hippie mode at Barton Springs. Ah, Austin. I love you.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Food Photo Friday - Green Chile Mac 'n' Cheese

The Roaring Fork. Sure, it's a chain, but at least it's one that's not afraid to use the word "Ass" on its menu (see: Big Ass Burger). And they've got some good stick-to-your-ribs offerings like their Kettle of Green Chili Pork and this Green Chile Mac 'n' Cheese that are perfect for this chilly Texas weather.

Go ahead, Minnesotans. Laugh. I'll just be sitting here in my bulky sweater warding off 38˚F with this green chile goodness.


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Friday, January 7, 2011

Food Photo Friday - Niu Rou Mien

One of my resolutions this year is to post more frequently on my blog. Unfortunately, between the fact that I have limited free time and the fact that I tend to be ridiculously verbose, it seems like my posts have become too far apart.

In an effort to get in the habit of posting more frequently, I'm going to try out a new series called Food Photo Friday. I am slightly obsessive about photographing nearly everything I eat, and most of the photos never see the light of day. So every Friday, I'll pick a photo or a few and post them here, maybe write a little something about them (or maybe not), but in the end, hopefully you'll have something pretty to look at and I'll have a few more posts on my blog every month. At least, that's the idea. We'll see how it goes.

For my first Food Photo Friday, I present to you a photo of my mom's niu rou mien. Niu rou mien is Mandarin for "beef with noodles." It's a simple dish, really, but it's total comfort food for me. My mom makes it for me nearly every time I'm in Minnesota. She slow cooks chunks of beef for a couple of hours with carrots and serves it over noodles with a smattering of scallions and a side of our favorite brand of super-garlicky kim chee. Wonderful.


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I wish I could eat some right now.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Congress Austin

Happy new year!

I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday season, and a great start to your 2011. As is typical, my holiday was filled with no small amount of feasting, trips to Lubbock and Minneapolis, and relaxing time spent with family and friends. I could not have asked for better.

Part of the aforementioned feasting included a New Year's Eve visit to Congress, a brand new venture that had literally opened for business that very evening. Congress is part of a trio of spaces at the bottom of the swanky Austonian - there is the more casual Second Bar + Kitchen, which is open for both lunch and dinner and is a standard order-off-the-menu proposition; Congress, which is the more upscale, prix fixe sibling; and Bar Congress, which connects the two spaces. The all-star cast here includes David Bull as executive chef (formerly of the Driskill Grill and Mansion on Turtle Creek); June Rodil as Beverage Director (formerly of Uchi and winner of the Texas Best Sommelier award in 2009; Plinio Sandalio as Pastry Chef (formerly of Textile in Houston); and Adam Bryan as Bar Manager. Austin is lucky to have a culinary team of this caliber, and the energy and enthusiasm here is palpable.


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The dining room at Congress is elegant and imtimate, with only about fifteen tables plus a couple of private dining areas. The seating was very comfortable - perfect for settling in for a long, luscious meal.

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We started with an amuse of celery root purée topped with parmesan foam and a bit of truffle. It was warm and delicious, and the flavors melted together delightfully on the tongue and left me wanting for more.

Next was a utterly fascinating concoction that I truly in my wildest dreams would never have thought up. A chilled cauliflower panna cotta was layered with uni and an uni meringue, bruléed, and topped with a bit of caviar and gold leaf. I know...what? It was unusual, to say the least, and I definitely enjoyed the experience, although I think those at the table who were less fond of the flavor of uni were also less fond of this dish.

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Any skeptics were won over by the next plate, a hamachi sashimi served with soba noodles, hearts of palm, and a bit of white miso. The miso was fragrant and light, and paired perfectly with the hamachi. Between bites, we secretly wondered what deft person was in the kitchen tying the soba noodles in knots.

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The salad course was next. Arugula was lightly dressed with a grape agro dolce and joined with a bit of artichoke confit topped with burrata cheese. The burrata was the suavest lover, so damn smooth and creamy that my tongue paid little mind to the sharper and tangier flavors found in the dressing and the arugula. I again found myself wishing there was more of this dish to enjoy.

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I didn't have to pine for long, though; next up was a bit of white snapper, served atop a smidge of white bean mousse and cuddled up with the finest piece of serrano ham I've ever had the pleasure of meeting meating eating. The dish was garnished with a bit of bottarga and a sliver of crisped mizuna. Simply lovely.

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Although at first blush the next course appeared comparatively unadventurous, it may well have been my favorite of the meal. A ribeye cap was finished with the most amazing, smoky espresso rub, placed atop puréed potatoes, and offered up with a bit of smoked caramel (just looking at those words makes me catch my breath). Absolutely fantastic, and the flavors were so rich and arresting that I was left satisfied, even though there were only a few bites on the plate.

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My "When Harry Met Sally" dish of the meal.

The cheese course arrived next - a beautiful wedge of coupole paired with a clementine beignet - again, a very nice balance between creamy-smooth and tart-sweet.

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The last official course was a bittersweet chocolate terrine served with a bitty pile of cocoa nib crunch, raspberry sauce, and crispy gianduja. It was not long for this world.

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These tiny babies came with the check - presumably to sweeten the bill within. I had stepped away from the table when they arrived, so didn't hear what they were...but they tasted all the world like oatmeal whoopie pies. Really refined oatmeal whoopie pies, though, of course.

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Overall, an excellent meal, particularly when you consider that this was officially Congress' opening night. The service was attentive without being overbearing; friendly without being cloying. The food was all spot on. If I had to express reticence over one thing, it would be that I think the portion sizes were a smidge on the small side. Multi-course tasting menus have to tread a fine line - diners neither want to leave hungry nor uncomfortably full - but given the choice, I guess I'd prefer to risk approaching the latter end of the spectrum, because spending a bill or two (or more) per person and wanting to snack afterward is just irritating. Full disclosure, however: in anticipation of this meal, I barely ate anything all day, so by the time we started eating around 9:30 p.m., my usually voracious appetite was in full force.

Also, be prepared for the fact that there is no printed wine list. June will steer you right, but if you want advance notice of how much your wine is going to set you back, you cannot be shy about asking. [EDIT: I've been assured that a printed wine list will be available by Wednesday. That's what I get for being on the scene too early - thanks for letting me know, guys!]

Those minor comments aside, I definitely enjoyed my meal here and am very much looking forward to exploring more of both Congress and its sister spaces, Second and Bar Congress. A huge word of thanks to Dave Shaw for helping us get reservations and putting up with my incessant queries about when their opening day would be. And congratulations to David Bull and the rest of the Second & Congress team for pulling off what promises to be a bright spot in the Austin dining scene.

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