View The Austin Gastronomist blog the traditional way– in reverse chronological order starting with the most recent post.
Summer is waning. I woke up this morning to a marching band rehearsal in the field behind our house, and I encountered heavy traffic near campus on the way into work. As autumn approaches, I’m torn between my love of lazy summers and the hustle of a new school year.
We’ve still got several weeks of summer produce in the wings, regardless of what the school calendar says. I’m particularly excited about the vegetables like zucchini, summer peas, and onions, which are just hitting their stride. Here’s what’s coming in the Local Box this week:
- Yellow Peaches – Caskey Orchards
- Basil – Gundermann Acres
- Cantaloupe – Gundermann
- Hydroponic Lettuce – Bluebonnet
- Yellow & Zucchini Squash – Gundermann Acres
- 1015 Onions – Bar W
- Magenta Spreen bunch – My Father’s Farm
- Butternut Squash – Bar W
- Summer Peas – Just Peachy Farm
- Peppers – Gundermann
- Wednesday: This penne with zucchini and basil comes together in about 15 minutes, with minimal dirty dishes. Yes, please.
- Thursday: Magenta spreen, also called “wild spinach” or lambsquarters, can be used interchangeably with spinach in almost any recipe. I’ll be using my bunch in this spinach lasagna recipe from one of my favorite food writers, Mark Bittman.
- Friday: Butternut squash and onions make excellent toppings for pizza, as in this recipe for butternut squash rosemary pizzas. I’ll use pita bread in place of fresh dough as the crust for individual-sized pies.
- Saturday: I’m making grilled cheese sandwiches and a grilled pepper and onion salad with lettuce instead of arugula.
- Sunday: Lazy dinner: Texas caviar (a salad of summer peas, bell peppers and onions) and tortillas chips, with diced cantaloupe and peaches in a fruit salad.
- Monday: If I play my cards right, all the produce will be gone by Monday, and I’ll ask Rami to take me out to dinner.
- Tuesday: Leftover Awareness Night!
I bought some local lamb shanks a few months ago on a whim, intending to braise them with some carrots for Easter. Well, time got away from me and the Easter bunny is long gone, along with this season’s carrots. And there’s no way I’m braising anything in the oven in this weather. What to do with that lamb in my freezer?
The solution to my quandary came last week along with some eggplant and onions in our Local Box. When I was planning my menu, I found several recipes for lamb and eggplant with Mediterranean seasonings, including Iraqi Lamb and Eggplant Stew, Moroccan Braised Lamb and Eggplant, and Spiced Lamb Stew with Eggplants, Tomatoes and Peppers. I used all three source recipes to create a new stew for my slow cooker, with sliced lamb shanks, plenty of spices, eggplants and tomatoes in a rich broth.
Slow cooking is an ideal way to cook tough or lean cuts of meat in the summer. Its moist, low heat breaks down cartilage and connective tissues, and its energy efficiency allows you to cook meat for a long time without heating up your kitchen. When cooking with a slow-cooker, it’s good to keep the following tips in mind:
- For even cooking, always put vegetables in the crock first, followed by meats and liquids.
- Use the right amount of food: the slow cooker should be between half and two-thirds of the way full before cooking.
- Keep the lid on the slow cooker for the entire cooking time, removing it only to check for doneness or to stir as the recipe directs. No peeking!
1 large onion, diced
1, 10 ounce can diced tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lamb shank cut into two-inch sections, about 1 pound of meat
2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice
1/2 cup wine or beef broth
1 teaspoon pepper
Twitter is a dangerous place. On Twitter I tend to commit to ideas whose concept fits into 140 characters or less, but whose execution is much, much larger in scale. This list is one of those projects.
Last month I tweeted about the article, “30 under 30: Futurist Foodies,” published by Splashlife, a list of 30 young food professionals who are making waves in America’s food scene.
“Why no Texans??” I tweeted indignantly after reading the piece. I was certain that Austin alone held at least 30 culinary phenoms whose work and talent deserved recognition. My friend Megan tweeted back, letting me know (1) that there was, in fact, a Houstonian on Splashlife’s list, and (2) that if I wanted to recognize deserving young Austinites, I should make a list myself. ”That sounds fun!” I tweeted back.
With those sixteen characters, I committed to discover and document which young Austinites were most influential in shaping the city’s food culture. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
There are many, many more important people in the Austin food scene than I initially suspected. My first round of brainstorming yielded over 70 possible listees, and as I continued my research, the group swelled to almost 100. After verifying many of those people’s ages, I calculated the average age of the group as about 35 years and settled on that number and age as the cutoff point for my list.
Once I identified those who were eligible by age, I whittled the list down by weighing the influence of each person or team against the following measures. Has his or her work:
- Received media attention or awards?
- Foreshadowed culinary, economic or demographic trends?
- Changed how Austinites eat, cook, access or think about food?
- Inspired other people in Austin to do similar work?
- Helped to define the food culture of a particular Austin neighborhood?
Owners, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop
John and Kendall Antonelli’s commitment to stocking the very best merchandise– and to let customers sample every bit of it– ensures that their Hyde Park cheese shop stays busy any time it’s open. Their placement of Antonelli’s cheese plates on the menus of such acclaimed Austin restaurants as Asti, Fino, Max’s Wine Dive and Frank, to name a few, has increased the profile and quality of cheese offerings across the city.
Bar Congress was named one of the best bars in America by Esquire, thanks to its intimate atmosphere, impeccable bar menu, and genius old-school cocktails. Adam Bryan, who helped establish East Side Show Room, is the man behind the bar’s friendly service and inspired cocktail selections. Bryan’s work at both East Side Show Room and Bar Congress has been much imitated across Austin, as he foreshadowed a national trend towards throwback cocktails and liquors.
Jeff Young, 31, and Johnny Livesay, 30
Beer Team Leader (Young) and Kitchen Team Leader (Livesay), Black Star Co-op
Black Star Co-op’s upscale, farm to table menu and microbrews set it above many Austin neighborhood bars, and its co-operative business model is the first of its kind in the world. Brewer Jeff Young and chef Johnny Livesay are leading the food and beverage operations there, helping to revitalize the Crestview and Airport Boulevard areas of Austin.
Karen Morgan, 33
Founder, Blackbird Bakery
Author, Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free
With celebrity clients like Courteney Cox, gluten-free lifestyle consultant Karen Morgan is at the forefront of the celiac movement in the United States. Besides working as a baker, Morgan develops custom gluten-free recipes for restaurant kitchens, maintains an award-winning food blog, and has authored the cookbook, Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free.
Angela Henry, 35
Nutrition Education Manager, Capital Area Food Bank
The Capital Area Food Bank’s nutrition education programs reach hundreds of thousands of Central Texans every year, through programs in schools, community centers, and through the food bank’s partner agencies. Registered Dietician Angela Henry leads a team of four nutrition education staff at the food bank, secures grant funding for education programs, and helps to ensure that everyone in Austin is empowered to make healthy food choices.
Josh Watkins, 33
Executive Chef, The Carillon Restaurant at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center
Executive Chef Josh Watkins came to The University of Texas’ new hotel facility in 2008 on the heels of successful stints at The Driskill and Dallas’ French Room at the Adolphus Hotel. The success of The Carillon demonstrates Austin’s increasing demand for fine dining, and Chef Watkins’ innovative approach to traditional foods makes the hotel restaurant one of the best dining experiences in town.
June Rodil, 31
Beverage Director, Congress Austin
Born in the Phillipines and raised in Dallas, June Rodil cultivates the wine list at Congress Austin, David Bull’s nationally-acclaimed trio of restaurants. Rodil previously worked at at The Driskill and Uchi, and she was named “Texas Best Sommelier” by the Texas Sommelier Association and the Wine and Food Foundation of Texas in 2009.
Plinio Sandalio, 29
Pastry Chef, Congress Austin
Campari pop rocks and green chartreuse ice cream are all in a day’s work for Congress Austin pastry chef Plinio Sandalio, who arrived in Austin from Houston’s Textile restaurant last year. Sandalio’s creative and playful desserts have earned him national recognition, including a 2010 James Beard Award nomination for “Best Pastry Chef.”
Ben Edgerton, 28, and Andrew Wiseheart, 30
Owner- General Manager (Edgerton) and Owner- Executive Chef (Wiseheart), Contigo Austin
Contigo Austin is where several of the city’s biggest trends intersect: there are hipsters, exotic game, charcuterie, upscale casual dining and a mixologist, all served up on a big ol’ patio in the Mueller neighborhood. None of this seems contrived, though, thanks to owners Ben Edgerton and Andrew Wiseheart, whose work makes Contigo the city’s top dining destination east of I-35.
Chef Jason Donoho balances familiar Mediterranean offerings like pizza and tapas with adventurous specials at partner restaurants Asti and Fino. These restaurants have helped to elevate the culinary scene in Austin’s Hyde Park and West Campus neighborhoods, which one might otherwise associate with bars and sandwich shops for the campus crowd.
Tony Yamanaka’s website “Food Trailers Austin” is a comprehensive directory of the city’s burgeoning food trailer scene, with reliable information about each trailer’s whereabouts, operating hours, chef and type of food. Yamanaka took the business model a step further when he put togther the Austin Food Trailer Alliance, a volunteer membership organization where vendors and patrons alike can work together for the betterment of the industry.
Jodi Elliott, 31, and Ned Elliott, 35
Owners and Chefs, Foreign & Domestic
Foreign & Domestic is one of several small businesses with attitude in the up-and-coming North Loop neighborhood of Austin. (The restaurant’s just down the street from the anarchist book store.) The personalities of chefs Jodi and Ned Elliott, married in 2003, shine through the restaurant’s open kitchen, its ever-changing menu, and its lively media presence, bringing a welcome dose of charisma and candor to the central Austin dining scene.
Aaron Franklin, 32
Owner and Chef, Franklin’s Barbecue
If you’ve read anything about barbecue in the media lately, it was probably about Franklin’s. Aaron Franklin’s food-trailer turned brick-and-mortar restaurant was proclaimed “The Best BBQ Restaurant in America” by Bon Appetit this summer. Meanwhile, outside the restaurant, there are lines around the block for the renowned meat.
Daniel Goetz, 25
Owner, GoodPop All-Natural Frozen Pops
Daniel Goetz was a college student when he founded GoodPop a few years ago, and his 100% organic paletas quickly became a hit at area farmers’ markets. Now they’re available for sale at Whole Foods grocery stores in Austin and Houston.
Mason Arnold, 33
Founder, Greenling Organic Delivery
Voted “Best Local Food Company” in Austin for four consecutive years, Greenling Organic Delivery is a big driver in the local food economy, because of the volume of local food they distribute, and because they literally drive deliveries to customers’ doorsteps. Founder Mason Arnold has overseen the business from its beginnings in a home garage, to the company’s recent partnership with Whole Foods stores in San Antonio and Austin. [Disclosure: Greenling is a sponsor of The Austin Gastronomist blog.]
Part June Cleaver, part Phoebe from “Friends,” part salty home-economics-teacher-of-your-dreams, Hilah Johnson is carving a big place for herself in the growing genre of internet television and e-books. Her hilarious and expletive studded cooking series Hilah Cooking! has earned her a mention in Nylon and Poor Taste Magazines and the title “2010 Austin Blogger of the Year.“
Christian Lane, 34; Joseph Lane, 30; Patrick Lane, 33; Brian Nunnery, 23; Christopher Pepe, 30
Founding team, In.Gredients package-free grocery store
Zero-packaging grocery store In.Gredients has been one of the most talked about local food businesses in Austin this year, and it hasn’t even opened yet. The store’s launch has been covered by 23 different media outlets– including the New York Times, Forbes and Rolling Stone– since the team of founders announced the concept earlier this summer. The team’s commitment to community collaboration extends to its capital building; the store is just a few thousand dollars shy of its $15,000 crowd-sourced fundraising goal.
Deegan McClung, 32
Executive Chef, Jeffrey’s Restaurant and Bar
Since it opened in 1975, New American bistro Jeffrey’s has become an institution in Austin’s fine dining scene. The restaurant remains fresh thanks to Chef Deegan McClung’s imaginative preparations of local ingredients and ever-changing seasonal tasting menus.
With a big momentum boost from her catering business, Luxe Sweets, Soraiya Nagree opened La Patisserie in south Austin in December 2010. The bakery offers many French pastries, but the macarons are what made Nagree famous; she offers typical flavors like lavender, rose, and pistachio, and also seasonal varieties like peach basil in homage to the Texas hill country.
Wes Mickel has two lives: in the first, he spends 80 hours a week running the cooking school at Whole Foods. In the second, he spends 80 hours a week at Argus Cidery, brewing artisanal ciders from Texas apples. That only leaves eight hours for sleep, so it’s a mystery how he manages to keep a smile on his face and impress clients at both jobs. Maybe it’s all the cider?
Food and Wine named Bryce Gilmore one of “America’s 10 Best New Chefs” this year, and we lucky Austinites know why. The food from his trailer could best that of most fine kitchens, and the menu and atmosphere at Barley Swine has upped the standards of intimate dining in the city. Both eateries boast flavors unique to Austin thanks to Gilmore’s commitment to using local ingredients in nearly every dish.
Eric Silverstein, 28
Owner, The Peached Tortilla
Telling someone about Eric Silverstein’s fusion food truck is like running down a list of best practices for mobile food vendors: Niche concept? Check. Reliable business hours? Check. Clearly defined brand? Check. Strong social media presence? Check. The thing is, those things almost never come up in conversations about The Peached Tortilla because everyone’s too busy raving about the food: offerings like pad thai tacos, pork belly sliders, sweet potato fries and banana nutella wontons.
Neysa King, 27, and Travis Czerw, 27
Owners, Round Table Farm
Farmers Neysa King and Travis Czerw have poured blood, sweat and tears into the Texas earth as they endeavor to grow sustainable produce and reform our food supply through their start-up, Roundtable Farm. Neysa’s documentation of that journey in her blog, Dissertation to Dirt, offers a compelling behind-the-scenes look at life as a young farmer.
Mason Popp, 25
Greenhouse Manager and Bartender, Sagra Trattoria and Bar
If you’ve eaten at Sagra, you know the work of Mason Popp and you might not even know it. In addition to working as the restaurant’s bartender, Popp grows most the restaurant’s tomatoes and herbs in a greenhouse off Slaughter Lane in south Austin.
Ben Runkle, 33
Butcher, Salt and Time
“Artisinal butchering” was named Austin’s best food local trend in 2010 thanks to the likes of Ben Runkle, the butcher behind the farmers’ market-based meat shop Salt and Time, launched in 2009. Runkle is part of a growing community of Austin charcutiers who share a commitment to the environment, the community and to producing traditional meat products at the highest level.
Olivia O’Neal, 34
Owner- Menu Development, Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop
Founded by Olivia O’Neal, Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop has only been open on South First Street for a few years, yet it feels like it’s been part of that neighborhood forever. A commitment to offering vegan and gluten-free treats, plus its rotating menu of offbeat cupcackes makes this rockabilly bakery one of Austin’s most notable confectionaries.
Sari Albornoz, 28, and Jess Guffey, 31
Co-Directors, Sustainable Food Center Grow Local Program
Texas is ranked third in the nation for food insecurity, which means many Austin residents can’t afford to buy enough healthy food at the grocery store. Sari Albornoz and Jess Guffy head up the Sustainable Food Center’s Grow Local programs, which provide free and low cost gardening supplies, lessons and space to everyone who needs it, with the goal of making healthy, clean food available to all in Austin.
Jodi Bart, 32
Writer, Tasty Touring blog
Jodi Bart’s award-winning personal blog, Tasty Touring, contains humorous restaurant reviews, travel stories, recipes and personal musings about the Austin food scene. Bart is active in the food community beyond her blog; she serves on the board of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance, appeared on KGSR radio as a food commentator, and hosts events like her upcoming Ice Cream Social in order to interact with readers offline.
Shortly after moving Austin last year, self-described “half-assed domestic goddess” Kate Payne started hosting a food swap with local blogger Megan Myers. Now the swaps are one of the hottest food events in town, and Payne has become increasingly visible in Austin’s community of home cooks. That visibility increased when she celebrated the release of her new book, The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, in Austin before embarking on a national book tour earlier this year.
Meagan Jones, 29
Environmental Coordinator, The University of Texas Division of Housing and Food
Most people don’t think “local, organic and sustainable,” when they think about dorm food, but Meagan Jones is working to change that. Now in her fourth year at UT’s dormitories, Jones has made drastic reductions in food waste and the dorm’s environmental impact through dozens of innovative programs that reach students, faculty and staff at one of the largest universities in the world. [Disclosure: I am employed at another department at The University of Texas at Austin.]
Brian Chen, 31, and Tiffany Taylor, 32
Founders, CEO (Chen) and President- COO (Taylor), Tiff’s Treats
Named “Best Dessert in Dallas-Fort Worth,” and with plans to expand to Houston this year, Tiff’s Treat’s Cookie Delivery company is on the move! The wildly popular business started years ago here in Austin, when Brian Chen and Tiffany Taylor were just sophomores at UT.
Anyone who doubted whether food trailers in Austin were here to stay probably became a believer at last year’s Gypsy Picnic Trailer Food Festival, which drew over 20,000 eager eaters to Auditorium Shores. The event was conceptualized by Tiffany Harelik, the blogger behind “Trailer Food Diaries,” in partnership with Austin’s biggest event company, C3. Harelik’s influence continues to grow, as does Austin’s trailer food scene; in the past year, she has authored a trailer food cookbook, filmed a teaser for a television show, and started working as a freelance advisor for food trailers nationwide.
Daniel Barnes, 34
President and Owner, Treaty Oak Distillery
Treaty Oak Platinum Rum is the landmark product of the eponymous Austin distillery, but it’s just one of the premium liquors owner Daniel Barnes is producing these days. The distillery is also putting out Graham’s Texas Tea, and will launch Waterloo Gin this fall. All three liquors are painstakingly developed by Barnes (a sommelier) and his team, and brewed in small batches using only ingredients sourced in Texas.
Most in Austin know Phillip Speer through his avant-garde desserts at Uchi and Uchiko, or because he was a semi-finalist for the Beard Award for “Outstanding Pastry Chef” in 2010. I feel like I know Speer best through his food blog, which offers occasional insights into life in the Uchi kitchen, recipes, and first-hand accounts of cutting edge gastronomical techniques.
Paul Qui, 31
Executive Chef, Uchiko
No one’s seen Uchiko chef Paul Qui in Austin lately, unless you count this grainy paparazzi shot at Whole Foods. Rumor has it that he’s kicking ass on the upcoming season of Top Chef, and I’m all for him winning the whole thing– just as long as he comes home Austin afterwards to keep making the food that made him famous in the first place.
Quick, name your 14 favorite kinds of cheese. Then write them each on a flashcard, please, along with details about the production process and a suggested wine pairing for each one. I’ll need those ASAP to study up for the Slow Food Austin Quiz Bowl next weekend!
On Sunday, August 14, I will be representing — along with Jodi, Megan, and Melanie — the Austin Food Blogger Alliance at Slow Food Austin’s annual fundraiser, a foodie quiz bowl at The Highball from 12-4 PM.
$15 gets you in the door to eat great local food and watch the
carnage light-hearted trivia game, with questions developed by Addie Broyles of the Austin American Statesman. Along with our team, there will be some local food celebrities playing to win $1500 for the slow food charity of their choice. And if watching me and my food geek friends play a tipsy game of Jeopardy isn’t enough, Brian Butler of Salt & Time will dress like a pig and hold a live auction for meat at half-time!
In all seriousness, this is going to be an awesome event for a great cause. I hope you’ll join me at The Highball next weekend; advanced tickets are just $15 and a limited number of volunteer spots are available.
It’s way, way too hot for a picnic here in Austin, but I’m really missing the weekly picnics Rami and I were taking earlier in the summer. I’m tentatively planning for us to go to Krause Springs for some swimming on Sunday, with a twilight picnic in the mix if we can stand the heat. Other than that, we have a pretty standard week ahead. The heat wave and continued drought are really doing a number on Texas farmers, and only the most heat-tolerant plants are still producing. (Bella Verde’s bibb lettuce is hydroponic.) It will be a bit of a stretch to make our available produce into six meals, but I’m going to do my best. Here’s the produce I’m cooking with this week.
- Yellow Peaches – Caskey Orchards
- Avocados – G&S Groves
- Lady Cream or Purple Hull Peas – Just Peachy
- Okra – Engel Farm
- Bibb Lettuce – Bella Verde
- Shallots – Lund Farm
- Sage Plant – My Father’s Farm
- Butternut Squash – Animal Farm, Engel
- Red Potatoes – Gundermann Acres
- Wednesday: Okra and tomato soup, southern soda bread
- Thursday: Bibb lettuce is perfect for lettuce wraps. I’ve got ground beef on hand, so I’ll be making these beef lettuce wraps. This tofu version looks good, too.
- Friday: Butternut squash macaroni and cheese, sliced peaches on the side
- Saturday: Shallot and white wine poached salmon, garlic red potatoes
- Sunday: Texas mosh salad with avocado and purple hull peas, Milagro tortilla chips,
- Monday: Slow cooker pot roast, garlic red potatoes (again. hopefully we get a lot of potatoes)
- Tuesday: Leftover awareness night!
Juliet tomatoes, onions and cheddar cheese make this casserole look fancy in a pie crust. When it’s just family, I skip those calories and pour the quiche filling straight into a buttered pie pan.
Sans crust, this quiche is one of my favorites for lazy Saturday morning breakfasts since I can sneak back into bed and listen to NPR while it cooks in the oven. It also works well for a quick weeknight dinner paired with a side salad and a glass of wine.
If you don’t have cherry or juliet tomatoes on hand, chopped fresh tomatoes are a good substitute. None of those? Chopped mushrooms, bell peppers, greens, or cooked potatoes all work well, too. If you end up using any of those ingredients, cook them with the onions in the skillet before stirring them into the eggs.
Crustless Quiche with Juliet Tomatoes (serves 8 )
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
5 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup skim milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
half-pint juliet tomatoes (8-12), cut in half
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a nine-inch pie pan. In a skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onions and cook them until they are tender, then set them aside to cool slightly. In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, milk, cheese, salt, pepper, and par-cooled onions. Stir to combine, then pour the mixture into the prepared pie pan. Arrange tomato halves, skin side up, in the egg mixture. Bake the quiche until the custard is golden, puffed and the edges are set, about 30-35 minutes. Set on a cooling rack for about 20 minutes to cool before serving.
One of the great pleasures of traveling through rural Texas is all the wonderful road food along the way. Texas Monthly did a write-up in 2008 highlighting the “40 Best Small Town Cafes” in the state, and while I don’t agree with all their selections, the list is a wonderful resource for summer road trip planning.
Rami and I took an impromptu visit to a blueberry farm in east Texas a few weeks ago, and I was thrilled when we passed by The Shed Cafe in Edom. I recognized it from the Texas Monthly article and knew we had to stop for lunch there. The cafe is located at the intersection with the town’s only stoplight, next door to an antique shop and a pottery gallery.
There’s no pretense here although as far as rural Texas businesses go, The Shed Cafe is at the forefront of social media. They have a website with instructions to get more details at “our new Myspace page.”
All jokes aside, The Shed Cafe doesn’t need any fancy marketing to turn tables. The restaurant was full on Friday afternoon with a mix of locals and tourists. Rami and I really must have looked like tourists; I got the stink eye from an octogenarian auto mechanic sitting near the pie case, who clearly thought my big honking camera was disrupting his lunch! Once I tried the food, I completely understood why he was annoyed. Nothing should come between a man and his chicken fried steak. (Or a woman and hers!)
The waitstaff was plenty friendly, even to we out of town-ers. Our server was endlessly patient when she explained to me the differences between chocolate and chocolate dream pie, and she gave me the lowdown on every kind of pie crust in the joint. (For the record there were four that day: graham cracker, traditional pastry, pecan sandy and chocolate wafer.)
Before I get to more pie recapping, I need to tell you about the chicken fried steak. I am a bit of a chicken fried steak skeptic, since so many roadside cafes make the attempt at this dish and miss. There are lots of pitfalls with chicken fried steak: tough steak, soggy coating, too cold, too bland. I don’t even try to make chicken fried steak at home because it’s never as good as I imagine.
The Shed Cafe got it perfect.
Tender beef steak, piping hot, was encased in a tabasco-seasoned coating with the perfect amount of crunch. A blanket of creamy gravy flecked with black pepper covered the steak and neighboring mashed potatoes. Oh. My. God. I might have moaned a bit when I tried my first bite of this dish, garnering more stink eye from that mechanic.
The meal came with stewed okra and tomatoes on the side, along with mashed potatoes and more of that heavenly gravy. I thought I really was in heaven when the waitress brought both cornbread and rolls to the table without us having to ask. Of course we needed both: the cornbread for sopping up okra likker and the roll for the gravy. I took copious notes about that okra, and I am going to have a great time trying to recreate it in my own kitchen.
The next dish we tried was the breakfast special.
The biscuits and gravy were exceptional, and my eggs over medium were cooked to perfection. However, the grits and sausage patties couldn’t hold a candle to the standout items on the menu, and I left most of them on my plate to save room for the rest of our meal.
We ordered lots of desserts. The waitress explained to us that the Shed prepares their custard pies with two topping options: a traditional meringue, and a whipped cream. The pies with whipped topping are called “dream” pies. Rami prefers those to meringue, so we ordered a chocolate dream pie (pictured at top) and their daily special dessert: a chocolate custard pie on a pecan sandy crust with a cream cheese layer and whipped topping.
As a food blogger, I felt a duty to compare the regular chocolate dream pie to this gussied up version. As my accomplice, Rami felt a duty to help me. We had no trouble finishing off both pieces of chocolate pie in the name of research and declaring the regular version the winner. (The deciding factor was the graham cracker crust.)
My favorite item of the day, even after that chicken fried steak and the chocolate pie, was a deep fried peach pie. I love fried pies, from Mrs. Baird’s to the Texas State Fair to Whataburger’s to –gasp– McDonald’s. I will eat them all and enjoy every moment.
I knew as soon as I saw this golden beauty that none of those other fried pies could hold a candle.
I still don’t understand how they deep fry such a thin, flaky crust without the pie filling seeping out of the sides. The pie was like a cloud sitting in the dish, and it crumbled into a steamy peach puff when I pierced it with the fork. Eight bites later it was gone.
“This is how I know you love me,” Rami said when I offered him a nibble. He was right.
As soon as I saw this still life by Georg Flegel I thought of my mother in-law, Valerie. Val always has the prettiest dishes at her house in San Diego, like the wine glass and footed blue bowl in the painting, and when we visit her at Christmastime we are serenaded by her collection of pet birds. She even keeps sesame candies like the white ones pictured above in her kitchen. (But no mice or bugs, for the record!)
This summer Rami and I have stuck pretty close to Austin for work obligations and such, so I am already dreaming of the winter when we’ll get to travel to visit Val and other family for the holidays. Since I’m longing for cooler weather, I’m mixing in some holiday favorites to our meal plan, along with chilled soups and other summer dishes.
Here’s what we’re getting in the Local Box:
- Yellow or White Peaches- Caskey Orchards & Cooper Farms
- Mango- G&S Groves
- Lady Cream Peas- Just Peach, Gundermann
- Onions- Gundermann Acres
- Assorted Squash- Massey Farm
- Yellow & Orange Tomatoes- Engel Farms
- Portobella Caps- Kitchen Pride
- Cantaloupe- My Father’s Farm
- Assorted Peppers- Fundermann, Animal Farm, Engel Farm
- Red Potatoes- Gundermann Acres
- Wednesday: Lady cream peas with peppers, onions and tomatoes; skillet cornbread
- Thursday: If we get enough portobello caps in our box to use them as pizza crusts, I’ll be making this recipe for grilled portobello pizzas, substituting a chopped tomato from Engel Farms for the cherry tomatoes in the recipe. If we don’t get enough, I’ll make or buy a pizza crust and top it with the sliced portobellos, plus all the ingredients the other recipe calls for. Either way we’re have mango smooothies for dessert.
- Friday: This is my adventurous meal for the week, and I’m going out on a limb to try this recipe for White Gazpacho with Canteloupe. White gazpacho is a traditional spanish chilled soup made with almonds, bread, oil and vinegar, and sweet Texas melon sounds like the perfect complement for those flavors. I’ll minimize the risk of culinary rejection by serving the soup with crusty french bread and a few kinds of local cheese.
- Saturday: We’re celebrating Thanksgiving in July with this slow cooker turkey breast and onions, and summer squash stuffing casserole.
- Sunday: I’ll shred some of the leftover turkey breast and mix it with barbecue sauce for sandwiches, with grilled balsamic-glazed peaches for dessert.
- Monday: We’re going to try for a healthy sloppy joe supper with this intriguing recipe for Vegan sloppy joes, which calls for lentils instead of beef or soy protein. On the side we’ll have simple potato packets.
- Tuesday: Leftover awareness night!
This meal is the result of two competing desires. The resolution of an epic struggle today between my compulsion to use up all the groceries in my fridge and what felt like the world’s strongest craving for Greek take-out from the restaurant down the street.
I was doing my Sunday chores like a responsible adult when I started craving pita bread and schawarma from Arpeggio Grill, the little Mediterranian spot down the street from my apartment complex. Their pita is so soft and light it practically floats up to your mouth, and it’s the perfect vehicle for spicy lamb.
My desire for pita was strong. However, we had a bunch of extra food in the house, and I just couldn’t bear to buy more while so many groceries went unused on the shelf. So I decided to approximate the pita and schawarma lunch special from Arpeggio Grill using ingredients that I had on hand in the kitchen.
Recreating their pita was pretty straightforward. I used the recipe and method from one of my favorite learn-to-bake blogs, “The Fresh Loaf.” That blog gives a comprehensive breakdown of each ingredient, plus specific step by step instruction with pictures. Perfect for a novice pita-maker like me.
To complement the keftedes and pita bread, I made tzatziki with an Indian cucumber from My Father’s Farm. Indian cucumbers are big, yellow vegetables that taste the same as green, English cucumbers. I like using them in recipes like raita or tzatziki because their bulbous shape yields a bit more flesh than green cucumbers once they are seeded.
The schawarma portion of Arpeggio Grill’s lunch plate was more difficult to make at home than the pita or tzatziki, since the dish must be cooked on a rotissierie– not standard issue for any apartment kitchen I’ve ever seen! Since actual schawarma was out of the question, I turned to traditional fried meatballs called “keftedes” to recreate the Mediterranean flavors I was craving. I used ground venison hunted by my dad for the keftedes, along with eggs from Ringger farms and herbs from Pure Luck and My Father’s Farm. If you don’t have access to deer from a hunter, ground venison is available in Austin at Whole Foods or you can substitute a mixture of ground lamb and pork.
Although cooking three Mediterranean dishes from scratch was more time consuming than calling for take-out, I’m glad I put in the effort. I bought myself a big chunk of room in my crisper drawer, and I can rest easy tonight knowing that home cooked leftovers mean my lunch for tomorrow is already prepared!
Venison Keftedes (yields about 30, golf ball-sized meatballs)
3 slices bread
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons minced fresh basil
3 tablespoons minced fresh mint
1 tablespoon dried oregano (3 tablespoons if using fresh)
1 pound ground venison, can subtitute pork, turkey or beef
1/2 cup millk
2 eggs, beaten
Canola oil, for frying
All-purpose flour, for frying
In a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, combine the first six ingredients. Process for 3-4 minutes, until mixture is uniform and all the herbs are distributed evenly through the bread crumbs. In a large bowl, mix together the bread crumb mixture, ground meat, milk and beaten eggs. Shape the meat into meat balls and cook by frying or baking, instructions below.
Frying method: Heat an inch or two of oil in a deep skillet until it reaches 375 degrees, or a bit of the meat mixture sizzles in the hot oil. Line a plate with a few paper towels. Dredge the meatballs generously in all-purpose flour and cook them a few at a time in the hot oil until they are firm and deep brown, turning often. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and set them on the towel-lined plate to drain.
Baking method: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place rolled meatballs on a broiler pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until they are no longer pink in the center. Serve keftedes with tzatziki and warm pita bread.
Tzatziki (yields 2 cups)
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and shredded
7 ounces Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon white vinegar (use lemon juice if you have that on hand. I didn’t)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Mix the shredded cucumber and greek yogurt together in a small bowl, then transfer the mixture to a paper towel-lined strainer. Set the strainer over the bowl and let the mixture drain for an hour. Discard the liquid.
In a food processor, combine yogurt mixture with remaining ingredients. Process for a few minutes until tzatziki is creamy and well combined. Chill for at least an hour before serving.
Summer can be a glorious time for families in Central Texas. The break from the classroom can mean summer reading clubs, swimming lessons, trips to Schlitterbahn, and the chance to attend summer camp. Not everyone is so lucky, though. For many in Austin, summer means hungry bellies and stretched budgets as kids lose access to the free or reduced-price meals they receive during the school year.
More half of the students in the Austin Independent School District (AISD) qualify for free or reduced-price meals. When kids are not eating those meals at school, parents must come up with funds for food at home or else let kids go hungry. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) provides relief in the form of free prepared meals to children and youth during the summer. The federally-funded SFSP seems like a win-win at first glance. Kids get a free meal or two each day, parents’ pantries last a little longer, and local economies get a boost from the federal aid dollars.
But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Although the Federal Government pays for SFSP food costs, there is no money earmarked to actually administer the program. In Texas this burden is passed on to thousands of sponsor agencies like public schools, summer camps, and nonprofit organizations who elect to implement the SFSP meal program at the grassroots level.
Accessing those federal food dollars is no easy feat. Once an SFSP sponsor has submitted the 57-page application to qualify for food reimbursement, they must work with local health authorities to ensure that lunches are up to code. Then they’re on the hook to prepare and distribute food, organize volunteers, provide transportation and pay for utilities. Those costs are often more than qualified sponsors, like public school districts, can handle. When they can’t afford to offer the SFSP meals, kids are left hungry.
The Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB) helps fill these gaps in Central Texas so that more children get more meals, and so that Austin can maximize the availability of federal funds. This summer CAFB is hosting SFSP meal sites at places like Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs and Extend-a-Care that offer summer programming for children from low-income families. The childcare nonprofits take care of gathering the kids, serving the meals, and staffing the childcare, while the CAFB helps manage the SFSP application process and other logistics. Through the partnerships, free summer meals are usually part of larger neighborhood enrichment programs, creating an outreach presence in Austin that is greater than the sum of its parts.
This year CAFB expanded the number of its meal sites from 23 to 30, thanks to a $20,000 grant from the ConAgra Foods Foundation. This grant is part of the Foundation’s Hunger-Free Summer program, a five-year partnership with Feeding America, in which ConAgra will award $10 million of grant funding to Feeding America’s partner food banks. Over the five year period, annual micro-grants like the one awarded to CAFB will help pay for meals at the grassroots level, while multi-year research is funded at the national level. Individual food banks send data to researchers with the idea that in the end everyone will learn efficient and successful ways to manage SFSP programs in their own communities.
Another goal of the campaign is to raise awareness of hunger issues through the “Hunger Free Summer Tour.” This year country singer Josh Kelley is pounding the pavement, traveling to five American cities as part of the media tour, where he will talk with the press and visit food banks that received grant funding. He visited the Boys and Girls Club of South Austin on Wednesday to visit with children there and help pass out lunches.
“As a new dad it is hard to imagine that millions of kids face hunger and don’t know where they will get their next meal,” said Kelley. “I’m proud to be visiting sites like the Boys and Girls Club of Austin Area to spend time with the kids, and also celebrate the volunteers and staff members who are making great strides in an effort toward ending child hunger.”
Kelley hung out at the Boys and Girls Club for a long time on Wednesday, playing basketball, making crafts, snacking with the kids and even giving a concert for them. While these happy moments helped to make coverage of a bleak issue more palatable, one hopes that once the spotlight is gone Austin media will continue to explore what summer means to the kids who can’t get a free lunch to fill their tummies.
To find out where you can get access to Summer Food Assistance in Austin, visit the Capital Area Food Bank website or dial 2-1-1 and ask about Summer Food Assistance.