Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Desperate Foodie

As a food lover, I make it my practice to ensure that every meal I eat is cooked to order using fresh, local ingredients.

Just kidding.

There are times - more times than I care to admit - when circumstances dictate that I grab something on the go. And by "on the go," I mean that sometimes I am forced to take something out of the freezer to heat up and eat at my desk at the office. I hope this doesn't happen to you, but in case it does, read on for some frozen meal suggestions to save your palate from the horrors of Hot Pockets.

My favorite frozen meals are made by Saffron Road, a company that makes products that are not only halal, but antibiotic-free, certified humane, and 100% natural. That may sound a bit like a Portlandia episode, but my feeling is that if you're going to be eating food from the freezer, you might as well eat something relatively good for you. Saffron Road delivers in that regard.

My favorite of Saffron Road's entrées is their chicken biryani. This photo doesn't at all do it justice, but it consists of a lovely bed of rice that tastes fresh and not at all like it's been frozen, topped with tender, very flavorful chicken. You honestly could have convinced me that this dish was freshly made, and when you're eating a frozen entrée at your desk, that's kind of a nice feeling.

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I also really like their lamb saag - tender lamb, spinach, and long-grain rice. Again, they've managed to make their rice taste very fresh - a difficult feat, in my experience - and the lamb and spinach meld nicely together to make for a comforting dish that tastes great in chillier weather (though I've also been known to eat it when it's hot outside).

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If you're a saag paneer fan, Central Market makes a wonderful frozen saag paneer under its Taste of India brand. Large, firm chunks of mild cheese (paneer) are mixed with a spinach that's prepared in such a way that it practically melts in your mouth. Here again, the rice is fluffy, fragrant, and not at all watery/insipid like some frozen rices can be.

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So next time you find yourself dining at your desk, check out one of these frozen meals. I hope they'll give a little lift to the inner foodie trapped inside your desk jockey self.

What are your favorite frozen food items?

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

East Side King on South Lamar

Y'all. I just had a revelation.

I've been eating at the East Side King on South Lamar ever since they opened about a year ago. But somehow I was oblivious to the shaved ice offering they added to their menu back in September. If you like the $12 cheddar cheese ice cream sandwich at qui, I suspect that you'll love the $5 shaved ice at East Side King. They've somehow made the rather unlikely combination of white cheddar shaved ice, dulce de leche, green & fuji apple, waffle cone pieces, grated aged cheddar, and jalapeño salt - jalapeño salt! - work together beautifully, creating a savory, spicy, lightly sweet combination that I could not get enough of.

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There are other winners on the menu, too. Of course, the East Side King staples like chicken karaage, pork belly buns, brussels sprout salad, and beet fries are there. But also the tako (octopus) taco, which I usually order over rice instead of in the fried shell it comes with. It's hard to get octopus right, but they do it right here. Still tender, and butter poached, which adds a richness you don't usually find in octopus. It's garnished with tobiko and a nicely acidic vegetable ceviche, and costs just $3.95.

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My lovely friend and blog date, Linda, got this awesome "bento box" which came with a tako taco, an ebi ebi (tempura fried shrimp) steamed bun, some vegan beans and rice, and some kim chi fries. All so delicious, and just $12.95!

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East Side King offers an incredible value for a menu driven by such an outstanding chef. And now that they've got me hooked on that cheesy shaved ice, I'll not let so long go between visits in the future.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Veracruz All Natural

I recently discovered what may very well be my favorite tacos in town. I'd heard many raves about the charms of Veracruz All Natural, and finally made my way to their trailer down south for a late lunch one Sunday afternoon. It was well after 2:00 and I hadn't eaten anything all day, so I'm afraid my usual propensity for copious photo-taking was a little hampered. But don't let my lackluster photos dissuade you. These tacos are amazing, featuring fantastic tortillas (both flour and corn are housemade), flavorful fillings, and addictive sauces that almost make you wish the fillings were ever-so-slightly less flavorful, so as to justify more sauce usage.


Veracruz2
Migas

Veracruz1
Al pastor

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Rich & luscious chicken mole

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Full o' flavor fish

The tacos run around $3ish apiece; an absolute steal. And the south location is conveniently located outside the lovely Radio Coffee & Beer, so you can order any number of caffeinated or adult beverages to complement your taco goodness. I fell madly in love with this white blueberry tea made by one of my favorite local companies, Zhi tea, as well as the sweet infuser pot it was served in.

Radio Cafe


Veracruz All Natural has quickly earned a spot on my shortlist for a freshly prepared, very reasonably priced meal. Enjoy it on Radio's patio while basking in this absolutely gorgeous fall weather, and you have the recipe for a perfect Austin meal. 

Veracruz All Natural
1704 E. Cesar Chavez
Austin, TX 78702
or
4204 Manchaca Road
Austin, TX 78704
Hours at Manchaca location: 
6:30a - midnight (weekdays)
7:30a - midnight (weekends)

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Shawarma Point

Not long ago, my friend PJ posted a bit of smack talk on my Facebook page about his willingness to pit Shawarma Point's shawarma against any shawarma in town. I'm certainly no shawarma expert and I have no idea how many shawarmas are in town, but I can't resist a good shawarma smack talkin' and so I agreed to meet PJ for lunch.

Shawarma Point has a couple of locations - one at 519 E. 7th Street and another at 1503 S. 1st Street. We met at the South First location because it's near Vuka which, thanks to PJ, meant we had an indoor place to camp out and eat.

Shawarma Point

Shawarma Point's menu is easy even for the chronically indecisive. First, you decide whether you want a wrap, a plate, or a salad (I got a plate). Then you choose your protein: chicken, beef/lamb, or falafel (I picked beef/lamb). Other than add-ons and sides, the only other thing you need to decide is how spicy you want it. I chose "brown people spicy" which, besides being delightfully un-PC-sounding to say, was a mid-range spiciness level that I felt sure I could handle even if shawarma spiciness levels rivaled Thai food spicy. It was just right.

Shawarma

We also got a side of fries to share ($3), which I did not at all need - the shawarma was plenty of food.

Shawarma Point meal

I loved it. The amount of kick was not shy, and was perfectly balanced by the creamy white sauce and the feta (which we had added for $1 extra), tender meat, and wonderful basmati rice. If only it was nearer my house or my office, I know I'd be a regular here.

Shawarma Point
Two locations:
519 E. 7th Street and 1503 S. 1st Street
Austin, Texas
(512) 887-0076
Their Facebook page (I could not find a website)

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Oh la LaV

This may sound a little strange, but I didn't plan on liking LaV. There just seemed a little too much hype, a little too much glitter, a few too many stories about outrageously-priced wine lists and food that didn't live up to its price tag. I assiduously avoided it for months after it opened. But then a friend suggested that we go, and because I truly feel like it is my duty as a restaurant blogger to have tried every single restaurant in this town, I agreed.

It's really difficult not to love the interior of the space. It is decadent and rich, and it is easy to convince yourself that you're in a (restrained, updated) chateau somewhere in France.

La V 1


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La V 2

If you're planning a visit and you're wondering whether you're going to be able to afford a drink, the answer is yes. The wine list is HUGE. And yes, they do carry $6700 bottles of wine. But they also offer wines priced comparably to pretty much every other wine list in town. I was able to order a delicious $10 glass of prosecco, and my husband had an outstanding old fashioned for $12.

Once we were settled in with a sip or two of our drinks, we turned to the food.

They started us off with a little loaf of bread with butter.

La V 3

Our friend had an aqua dulce green salad tossed with hazelnut vinaigrette and served with warm goat crottin ($14). I had just a little bite of this - enough to know that the crottin was ah-may-zing, just a tiny bit stinky and warm and deeelicious.

La V 5

My husband tried the fall broccoli soup with aged cheddar crisps ($10). It had a roast-y, very broccoli-forward flavor. The aged cheddar crisps were a nice textural addition.

La V 4

For my entree, I chose the roasted whole black sea bass with eggplant caponata and charred lemon ($32). It was a little too fussy for my mood, trying to extract the meat from the bones, but the caponata was absolutely perfect - the flavors and textures melded beautifully together and provided a luscious counterpoint to the flaky fish.

La V 7

My husband ordered the bacon wrapped Massachusetts cod with beluga lentils, mushrooms, and sherry reduction ($33). I thought the bacon overpowered the cod and lentils aren't my starch of choice; this dish didn't really work for me.

La V 6

Our friend ordered one of the small plates for her entree, the hand-rolled whole wheat garganelli with lamb sausage ragout and cherry tomatoes, topped with pecorino ($17). This was my favorite of the three dishes, and I wished for an entree-sized portion of it.

La V 8

We finished the meal with warm brioche doughnuts with Texas peach jam ($11):

La V 9

And my favorite dish of the meal, the Stilton bleu cheese ice cream with port figs and candied pecans - a little painfully priced at $8 for a tiny portion (see the fig on the bottom of the bowl for scale), but it was wonderful (so wonderful that I just looked online for bleu cheese ice cream recipes).

La V 10

The check was presented in this beautiful suede folder. No detail was overlooked here.

La V 11

Did I like it?  It was sumptuous. It was spendy. It could easily provide suitable cover for all of your annoying pretentious fantasies. But, despite myself, yes, I liked it. There are other places in Austin with better food, but there aren't many places where you can spend an hour or two playing that you're a richy-rich in the French countryside, and afterwards walk less than a block and pull up a stool at a dive bar in the best city in the world.

LaV
1501 E. 7th Street
Austin, TX 78702
(512) 391-1888
Their website

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Friday, August 8, 2014

The Word is Mum

Last Sunday, I had the great pleasure of sampling the wares of mum foods, a fledgling farmer's market business run by Geoff Ellis and Matti Bills. I like to think of Geoff and Matti as the next generation of passionate chefs - who care deeply about the food they're serving and about supporting their own food community through local sourcing. They are offering a short menu of locally sourced, very high quality food at the Cedar Park Farmer's Market on Saturdays and at the Mueller Market on Sundays, including their signature wagyu brisket, luscious wagyu pastrami, chicken liver pâté, wagyu brisket rillettes, homemade brioche, jarred tomatoes, and homemade mustard (menu varies from week to week, but pretty much anything you get from them is going to be great, so I'd encourage you not to worry too much about what's on the menu that day).

For starters, I tried the special of the day, their wagyu pastrami sandwich - a gorgeous creation anchored by homemade brioche that is lightly toasted on the grill with wagyu drippings (!!!), giving it an incredible, buttery smokiness that I've never tasted in bread before. Next, they spread a layer of their homemade mustard, which has a nice bite that leans a little more toward horseradish than your typical ground mustard. Atop that, a bed of spicy arugula, then a glorious layer of their wagyu pastrami, hot off the grill.

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Every sandwich is made to order by Geoff

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Pastrami goodness in progress

As if that weren't enough, a layer of homemade red sauerkraut is added, then homemade pickled jalapenos. With each layer, I kept asking Geoff, "You made that, too?" To which he finally replied, "There's no point in being out here unless we're going to do this right."

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Well, this sandwich was about as right as it gets. I was so laser-focused on its charms that my husband ate nearly all of the large portion of brisket we bought before I was able to tear myself away from the sandwich long enough to take a bite (it too was excellent).

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Don't worry, this was not all ours.

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We also managed to come away with a loaf of their brioche, a jar of mustard, a jar of chicken liver pâté (made with Smith & Smith chicken livers), and a jar of wagyu brisket rillettes (made with Strube Ranch wagyu beef). The next day, I broke out the pâté and the rillettes and was completely blown away by the amount of rich flavor they were able to pack into these tiny jars. Most of the chicken liver pâté I've had was lighter in flavor and texture; this pâté was much deeper and more developed, and so filling that I could only eat a few bites. As for the rillettes, the best way I can describe them is if you were somehow able to take all the flavor of an expertly-made brisket - smoke ring and all - and somehow distill it down into a wonderful spreadable substance, you'd have these rillettes. The term "wagyu butter" sprang to mind as I was eating these - they are that decadent.

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Look for mum foods at the markets every weekend - Cedar Park on Saturdays, Mueller on Sundays. And don't go too late; word is spreading fast, and they've been selling out every day!

**BREAKING** Mum posted their menu for August 8th and 9th on their Facebook page and gave me permission to post it. Um, helloooooo French toast...

Photo by mum foods

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sound Bites: Snow Monster

We are now firmly in the grip of Texas summer, and it's hot. The obvious response - particularly from a food blogger's standpoint - is to use the sweltering weather as an excuse to seek out frozen treats. If you're of like mindset, have I got a tip for you.


Snow Monster, a new spot on N. Lamar (just northwest of the Chinatown shopping center), is serving up Taiwanese snow ice the likes of which Austin has never before seen. Gorgeous ribbons of a frozen milk-based mixture are drizzled with syrup and served with fresh fruit and a dollop of the loveliest panna cotta. The result is so impossibly light and fresh - so light, in fact, that it reminds me of the sensation of eating cotton candy - just a shimmer of flavor and then it's gone. I loved it so much that we went three days...in a row.

Snow Monster strawberry shaved ice
My favorite flavor so far - strawberry shaved ice

Snow Monster strawberry shaved ice

Snow Monster Matcha green tea
Matcha green tea flavor

Snow Monster
Where the magic happens (behind the syrup bottles, sigh)

They have several interesting-sounding flavors like Thai tea and milk tea (served with boba!), but I've always been late at night, when I've been too afraid to flirt with caffeine.

Hurry. Go. Before I eat it all.

Snow Monster
11220 N. Lamar B275
Austin, TX 78753

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sound Bites: Fresa's World Cup Chicken

You guys. Fresa's has a special chicken offering just for the World Cup - a fragrantly garlicky number made with a marinade of malaguetta peppers and served with feijoada (a stew made with beans, beef and pork), the fluffiest coconut rice, and tortillas. Go now, before it disappears from the menu. So. Good.

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Fresa's Brazilia Chicken special

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Off Topic - Landscape Transformation

One of the best things about having your own blog is that nobody can prevent you from writing about whatever the heck you please. And at the moment, I am so stinkin' excited about this amazing transformation we've done on our landscape that I was dying to write about it.

We've lived in this house for over ten years. When we moved in, the landscape looked decent. Nothing special, but perfectly serviceable. But years of neglect, coupled with a harsher-than-average winter (for Austin) had taken a toll on our landscape, rendering it rather embarassing.

Last spring, I interviewed probably ten different landscapers, chose one, and had a plan drawn up. I won't bore you with the gory details, but long story short, that landscaper then proceeded to go AWOL on us (fortunately, before we had paid him any money) and we were stuck with a plan but nobody to implement it. I got a few bids, including one from the landscaper who eventually did do the work, Steve Dearen of Dearen Landscapes, then spent probably a year getting used to the fact that this project was going to cost a LOT more than I had originally anticipated. Finally, this spring, I decided we could put up with our weed-tastic landscape no more, and called up Steve. Happily, he was still willing to work with us, and we pulled the trigger.

I could not have been more pleased with the work that Steve and his crew did. It was expensive, but after I saw the amount of work they put in, I truly believe it was worth every penny. It would have literally been impossible for us to do what they did. For nine days, there were 5-6 guys here - sometimes more - working really, really hard, all day. They employed a Bobcat, the largest dump truck I've ever seen, a welder, rock cutters, a jackhammer, wheelbarrows, shovels, a generator, probably many other tools that I'm completely unaware of, and lots and lots of hard, hard work. The transformation was nothing short of miraculous. Steve was unfailingly patient and always affable despite my frequent bouts with indecision, mind-changing, and micromanaging; he was unflappable when things went wrong (and things always go wrong); and his crew was startlingly efficient in implementing whatever I eventually decided. In short, they were amazing.

But don't take my long-winded word for it - see for yourself.

Before - Front
Front Yard - BEFORE.  Before the landscaping, our front yard was horribly overgrown. Many plants had frozen and died over the winter. The sidewalk, which I have hated since we moved into this house, was angled in such a way as to make it look like you were entering the side door.

After - Front
Front Yard - AFTER.  All beds have been edged in steel and mulched with crushed limestone. All plant matter was scrapped and replaced with a Japanese garden-esque look using steel planters mulched with Texas black basalt and flanked by Japanese maples. Thanks to a seriously brilliant idea by my architect friend, Kimberly Kohlhaas, the front walk (now made of grey leuder) was rerouted to provide more interaction with our gorgeous old oak tree and a better view of the front door sooner, which helps it feel like a front door.

After - Front 2
Front Yard - AFTER.

Before - Side
Side View - BEFORE.  An overgrown pomegranate bush tangled overhead with one of our trees. Invasive ivy kept creeping up the side of our house, ruining our paint. A large bush (mostly hidden to the right of the photo) blocked our view from the kitchen window.

After - Side
Side View - AFTER.  A curvy bed mulched with crushed limestone contains steel planters holding agapanthus, variegated ginger, bicolor iris, and juniper pom pom topiary trees. Purple fountain grass conceals a protruding pipe.

After - Side 2
Side View - AFTER.

After - Side 3
Side View - AFTER.

Before - back yard
Back Yard - BEFORE.  I should have taken this photo before we removed the over-mature ligustrum with the 6' diameter trunk that was hogging this entire bed. The tan color of the bed's interior is the wood chips left over from grinding the stump.

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Back Yard - AFTER. This photo is obviously taken from further to the left than the "before" photo, but you can use the shed for reference. Two islands of shade-friendly grass (Zorro Zoysia) were planted; the rest of the yard besides the back bed is all rainbow and pea gravel.

After - back yard
Back Yard - AFTER.

Before - Back yard
Back Yard - BEFORE.  The one beautiful plant in the back beds, a huge sago palm, was lost amongst the overgrown foliage.

After - back yard
Back Yard - AFTER.  Now the sago palm has room to breathe.

Before - Back Yard
Back Yard - BEFORE. Between the drought, the shade, and Mindy (pictured!), most of our St. Augustine had died.

After - Back Yard
Back Yard - AFTER. Gravel is much harder to kill. Hopefully, Zorro Zoysia is, too. The fence line is dotted with a row of knockout roses.

After - Back Yard
Back Yard - AFTER. I don't have a "before" photo of this spot, but wanted to show my friend Carla that we reserved some planters for a patio garden! 

I am so thrilled by this complete transformation in our landscape and highly recommend Dearen Landscapes if you need to overhaul your outdoor space.*

*In case you're wondering, this rave review is completely unsolicited and Steve has no idea that I'm writing it.

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