Monthly Archives: March 2010

leek potato soup

there is nothing like a bowl of soup to bring a complicated life to a screeching halt. not sure about where you live, but ’round these parts, we have about 3 weeks in the spring to sit outside and enjoy tolerable weather without melting, so everything is crammed into that short period making for a truly frenzied pace. i had to have a very stern talk with myself so as to not overbook, what with all the can’t-miss events and going’s-on that whirled around me. i picked and i chose. i weeded through. and i selected wisely.

one of the best decisions i made was to gather the ingredients (although you will most likely have most of them on hand) and prepare this delicately seasoned soup. i was lucky enough to find some beautiful leeks at my farmer’s market. the nourishment of this preparation is more than just skin deep; it is made without the addition of cream or milk, although it could certainly be added at the end or as a garnish after it is served up.

potato-leek soup (serves 6-8)

adapted from david lebovitz

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp pure unsalted butter

4 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced

salt

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, stripped from stalks

pinch of cayenne pepper (optional unless you are from texas)

6 cups water

1 1/4 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes (red, white, russet all work)

2 bay leaves

freshly ground pepper

in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat olive oil and butter until fragrant. add sliced leeks and season with salt. saute over medium heat, stirring frequently until completely wilted. add thyme and cayenne pepper and cook about 1 minute longer. add water, potatoes and bay leaf and bring to a boil. reduce to simmer and cover. cook until potatoes are very tender, about 15-20 minutes.

pull out the bay leaves and blend soup with an immersion blender or in a regular counter blender  or food mill. avoid using a food processor as this can render the mixture gummy. add freshly ground pepper and more salt to taste. thin with more water if desired.

and…voila! you can chill it and suddenly you have vichyssoise. how fancy are you?

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pickled pearls of wisdom

when i first heard that alliums were the produce of choice for this month’s can jam, i couldn’t have been more excited. i am a savory girl, for sure. i’ll take leek confit over a square of chocolate any day. roasted garlic over cheesecake. and i’d choose caramelized onions before selecting a big bowl of ice cream. i soon learned however that my dreams of canning all of my favorite onion and garlic preparations were being shot down at every turn for one very good reason. alliums are low-acid vegetables and they don’t care who knows it. because of this fact, and because i am fairly new to canning, i was having difficulty finding a way to safely can any of my beloved lily family favorites. by the looks of some of the chatter on twitter about this month’s challenge, i am not the only one who was having difficulty.

then i sat down and reminded myself that this was precisely reason that i wanted to join the can jam: to stretch my canning muscles. honestly, if it was gonna be so effortless that i would be able to whip up something without any thought process whatsoever, then what’s the point, right? and isn’t that what life’s all about? setting out to do one thing, then quickly realizing it ain’t happening according to expectations and adjusting as necessary? since i usually choose to make quick, refrigerator-style pickles, i decided that canning a pickle would the most logical next step. i settled on pickled cocktail onions more because they are adorable and i love the taste of anything pickled, than for their obvious practical application of fulfilling a gimlet-lover’s dream. i do plan on giving away a jar or two to the few friends that are known to have cocktail hour, but mostly i will keep them on hand for grilling season, as i imagine their briny little selves will shine next to a pork tenderloin with a nice char or as cooling antipasti. hell, i may even throw them in my next bloody mary.

pickled pearls (makes 1 1/2 pints)

adapted from saving the season

1 heaping pint cocktail onions (just over a pound)

3 cups champagne or white wine vinegar

4-5 tbsp granulated sugar

a few dried chilies de arbol

6 whole allspice

4 whole cloves

10-12 whole black peppercorns

10-12 coriander seeds

2 bay leaves

1- 3″ cinnamon stick

a few grains of cardamom (you can bust the pods open with a rolling pin)

make a brine from 1/4 coarse sea salt (regular iodized salt may turn the brine dark and cloudy and flaky kosher salt may not give the proper proportions for the brine) and 4 cups water, heat gently until salt dissolves, then cool to room temperature.

trim the root and stem ends of each onion and peel away a layer or two ‘to reveal the pristine and glassy interior’ (love that description). this may take awhile, so just slow down and revel in the zen of the activity.

place onions and brine in plastic bags (i used a separate bag for the purple and white onion as to discourage any bleeding of colors) and set in a large bowl to catch any accidental leakage. it was also very easy to keep the onions submerged in the brine this way. brine for a minimum of 12 hours, maximum of 48.

when ready, place vinegar, sugar and aromatics in a saucepan and bring to a boil. simmer for about 15 minutes, then remove from heat. meanwhile drain onions from brine and pack them tightly into sterilized jars. pour brine over onions, leaving 1/2″ headspace, and divide aromatics among jars, adding more if desired. if you are squeamish about heat on the palate, be careful with the hot chiles. breaking them open or adding them to a 4 ounce jar could render the onions rather spicy. process 10 minutes in a hot water bath.

the instructions say to allow flavors to marry for at least 2 weeks before using.

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breakfast joints, austin style: where to eat and why

this is an open letter to all the wonderful folks who will descend on our city over the next few weeks for all that is the south-by-southwest music, film, and interactive festival.

dear sxsw visitors:

i am honored to be part of a group of food bloggers here in austin, and we humbly welcome you to our beautiful city. we are okay with you doubling our population for 10 days, making it difficult to get onto our own clubs, bars, and restaurants, and giving us unbearable traffic on the streets and through our airport. ya know why? because we think…nay, we know our town is as cool as you think it is. and we wanna show it off. many of us are contributing to create and compile a cohesive, if not comprehensive,  list of fantastic places for you and your pie-hole to visit while you are here. check out this food bloggers guide to austin for other recommendations. and i’ve got breakfast covered. here’s where you should go and why:

maudie’s (www.maudies.com)

three little words: tatiana’s tamale tacos (2 for $4.00) you have not lived until you’ve eaten a tamale breakfast taco. eggs scrambled with a homemade pork tamale. they used to make a bean and cheese tamale version, but it doesn’t seem to be on the menu anymore. wouldn’t hurt to ask. if you’re needing a bit of the hair of the dog, the last time i was there they had a jalapeno margarita (on the rocks, the way margaritas should be) that was perfection. not sure if it’s in their regular lineup, but it should be. multiple locations, but you should really limit yourself to the more central locations of south lamar or lake austin blvd.

kerbey lane cafe (www.kerbeylanecafe.com)

an austin icon and sentimental favorite with decent queso, but mostly famous for their pancakes (buttermilk, gingerbread, apple wheat, blueberry, or ask for the daily special- short stack $4.25, full stack $5.25). kudos for being one of the first restaurants in austin to use local produce. original location located on kerbey lane (duh). they also have 3 other locations. open 24 hours. may have a humongous line for weekend breakfast.

taqueria la tapatia (no website-located at 1333 w. ben white blvd at banister)

if you are looking for an authentic mexican food experience, this is the real deal. many of the waitstaff take your order in spanish, but they are very good at understanding pointing and other international culinary hand gestures if you need your coffee refilled. the prices may make you feel as if you were in mexico as well. platters of migas, huevos rancheros, mexican scrambles for around $3.00. breakfast tacos, 3 for $2.00. and they have mexican coke. a bit southside, baby, but worth the drive.

counter cafe (www.countercafe.com)

if you could take a greasy spoon diner and modernize it without extracting the cool, this is what you’d end up with. i have to admit, i’ve only been here for lunch (please, please, please order the burger if you’re there during lunch-Texas Monthly magazine decided it was #2 burger in the state last year), but i’ve never been to an establishment that was not considered fine-dining that paid so much attention to detail. plus, where else can you substitute grilled quail for the steak with your steak-eggs? breakfast served all day, meaning 8:00 am-4:00 pm ‘cos that’s when they close.

maria’s taco xpress (www.tacoxpress.com)

a funky place ‘with a cool south austin vibe” states their website. the cool factor is pretty high here, what with the famous musicians, politicos, et al that grace the place with their presence. but the food is good. notables are the migas taco (a bit gringo pricey at over $2.00 a piece, but they are not small) and the offering of a few tasty vegetarian tacos as well and i’m not talkin’ beans and cheese but real vegetables! long lines that tend to go pretty fast on weekends. full bar with happy hour prices from 3-7 pm.

texas chili parlour (www.cactushill/tcp/home.com)

although they don’t open until 11:00am, i have had plenty of great breakfasts at the texas chili parlour. many of them are weekend specials and not on the menu. our favorite has been migas topped with their famous chili. their motto: e pluribus chili. just about everything has chili on it, in it, under it, or around it. and that’s just fine with us. weekend drink specials include dangerously cheap screwdrivers and bloody marys. centrally located near the UT campus.

upper crust bakery (www.theuppercrust bakery.com)

if sweet is more your style, this place has wonderful cinnamon rolls, danish (do i add -es to make danish plural or is it born that way?) and eye-opening espresso coffees plus they open early, at 6:30 am during the week if you’re still out and about after the gig. a little on the north side, but still considered central.

la boite (www.laboitecafe.com)

you are going to love this place. the lovely folks who opened this cafe only a few months ago have given us a gem. they make and serve high quality french pastries (i could never pass up a pain au chocolate, although theirs’ is called brioche au chocolate. i believe it’s the same?), sandwiches, and desserts in an old shipping container!! that’s right, you heard me–go check it out for yourself. and if it matters to you, they serve fair trade coffee, use local and organic ingredients, and are an environmentally sensitive and green cafe. and they’re the  nicest people around who deserve your patronage.

joe’s bakery and mexican food (www.joesbakery.com)

an east austin institution since 1962, i have been going to joe’s for as long as i’ve lived in austin. they have had virtually the same staff since the late 1980’s, with mostly wonderful service, but you have to take the good with the bad. that is, if you want the best migas in town. in my opinion, of course. this is what sets their migas apart: fresh slices of jalapeno sauteed with the egg mixture, then topped with cheese and set under the broiler. when chips and cheese brown, it defines deliciousness. i also have a weakness for their coffee shop coffee. you now the kind, tastes a little burnt and caramelized, served in a real cup and saucer, but always fresh because it’s continuously flowing. they serve breakfast all day, but close at 3:00 pm, so don’t dilly-dally for too long.

jo’s coffee (www.joscoffee.com)

not to be confused with the joe’s above, jo’s coffee is the place to see and be seen, at least during daylight hours. they make great coffee drinks, have a fantastic bakery case, sometimes including (gasp!) homemade fried pies, and are located in the epi-center of all that is cool during sxsw. the continental club (another austin institution that you should treat yourself to on the saturday of sxsw with breakfast and a daytime showcase emceed by mojo nixon every year!) is across the street, for heaven’s sake! sometimes there is a price to pay for cool, and sometimes that price is attitude on the part of the baristi, but who cares? you are in austin during sxsw!

torchy’s (www.torchytacos.com)

this establishment started off only a few years ago as an unassuming little trailer on south first street, then quickly outgrew it’s shell and now has several locations. the trailer on south first still stands, a decision which i really respect. they advertise that they have ‘damn good tacos’ and they don’t disappoint. standouts are the fried avocado taco, battered and deep-fried avocado with a poblano ranch sauce, and the trailer park, fried chicken and green chilies, which you can make ‘trashy’ by adding queso, each are $3.25. and speaking of queso, get some. it’s made with green chiles, guacamole, and queso fresco, served with their homemade chips.

curra’s (www.currasgrill.com)

this interior mexican style restaurant has been around for about 13 years. a little pricier than other mexican joints, the quality and exceptional ingredients used make it worth the price. we like the huevos motulenos, eggs served over refried black beans with a smoky chipotle sauce and fried bananas, and the chilaquiles (get your eggs scrambled and choose the green sauce!) topped with goat cheese, fresh onions, and cilantro. they also serve local coffee (from texas coffee traders).

this is not meant to be a comprehensive list of breakfast joints in austin but even if you hit a few of them you will most likely feel like a local, if even for a little while. you may notice a theme here, most notably one of mexican or latin american origin. we love our tacos for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. we love the food, the culture, the affordability of our cuisine of choice. we love to screw it up royally with our texan influences. we also love to give something back, in austin it’s in the form of social, environmental, and local sensibilities. we hope you enjoy your visit to our lovely city.

p.s. please feel free to add other breakfast joints to this list for others who visit the site. if you are visiting, please let us know your experiences with any of the suggested eateries!

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