Archive | July, 2010

Sautéed Okra with Bell Peppers

31 Jul

I hate okra. I really do. I didn’t grow up eating it and still haven’t gotten used to the slimy grossness of most okra dishes. In spite of this hatred, I’ve been trying to make okra dishes lately because my CSA seems to have had quite a bit of success with their okra crop this year and they keep giving me beautiful, fresh, big okra.

After trying several recipes that didn’t quite work out, I tried a variation on a very simple recipe that I found. It turns out that it was quite delicious and somehow, slime free.

3 tbsp butter

2 – 3 bell peppers, deseeded & deveined, sliced into bite-size pieces

1 hot pepper (not too hot) deseeded & deveined, sliced into small pieces

1 lb fresh okra, with tips and tops cut off

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp cumin

10 –15 coriander seeds (or a good sprinkle of ground coriander)

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat.

Put bell peppers and hot pepper into the butter, keep the heat pretty low.

Once the peppers have had a little time in the pan, put the okra and spices in.

Cover and keep over low heat for about 20 minutes.


So easy and yet, I actually liked this recipe (even though it was okra!). Unfortunately, my camera was dead when I made this meal, so there are no pictures, but this dish was actually very pretty and colorful too.

Uchiko’s Sake Social

28 Jul

Uchi and the new Uchiko are generally in my price range only for a “very special occasion” dinner so I was THRILLED when I saw this little tweet from Uchiko:

Naturally, I was a little suspicious – what the owners of Uchiko consider a “deep discount” might differ from what I consider to be a “deep discount”, but I thought I would explore a little.

This little bottle of hot sake was enough for the two of us and only cost $3!

When I called, the very friendly host informed me that Sake (hot or cold) was $3 for a small bottle, and that the chef selects several dishes as the “sake social” dishes each night  – those dishes are discounted about 40% – 50% during Sake Social time. Sake Social is from 5:00 – 6:30 at the bar and the tables near the bar.

Now THAT I can handle!

I went with one of my girlfriends and we enjoyed quite a few dishes:

two alba­core tataki hot rocks

one komaki roll

Nigiri sushi (Sorry it's blurry, best I could do)

several pieces of nigiri

one ao saba

two bowls of miso soup

one small bottle of sake

My surprise favorite was the ao saba, described on the menu as “norwe­gian mack­erel, blue­foot mush­room, onion, juniper, huck­le­berry.” This was a cooked dish, beautifully presented, and it tasted fabulous. The fish was just a little crispy on the outside, and flaky and wonderful on the inside.

This was my favorite dish of the evening - and so pretty! The picture doesn't really do it justice.

Of course, the hot rocks were great too and lots of fun (though we did have a little mishap and almost got our first piece of fish stuck on the rock – don’t worry, we recovered quickly). Really, all of the food was amazing, service was excellent and, the best part – our total bill was around $50. Pretty good for a top-notch meal for two including alcohol. Not to mention that Uchiko is quickly becoming one of the “cool” places to eat in Austin (if you don’t think that it already makes the list.)

You can expect to find me at Uchiko for their sake social as often as I can get out of work in time to make it!

Yemeni Sambucas (Samboosas)

16 Jul

mmmm... sambucas

The other day, I was thinking about some of the dishes that I ate growing up. Recipes from childhood will always have a special meaning for most of us. I decided to try out one that I hadn’t had in quite a few years.

To provide a little bit of background, I grew up moving around a little – my father was in the oil industry so we moved to Yemen for a few years when I was young. While most people only know Yemen as a terrorist haven (which it may now be), it was my home for quite a while. I’m not from there, nor is anyone in my family, but in my experience, there are many people there who are warm, loving, and friendly there.

When I was young, during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, some of those lovely, friendly people would make one of my favorite dishes called sambucas (samboosas). They’re delicious little pockets filled with ground beef and vegetables.

I searched far and wide for a recipe for Yemeni sambucas (this dish varies widely by region and I wanted the kind that I remembered). I got very lucky and found a blog from someone who did (or does) live in Yemen. Their recipe looked good and, as it turns out, tastes very much like what I remember.

Quick note: this is a dish that is prepared for holidays and shared with large groups – this recipe will make A LOT. Fortunately, sambucas can be frozen then thawed out and fried, but I recommend making a little less of the filling if you don’t want to end up with enough food to serve 6 – 10 people (maybe more).

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

1 lb ground beef

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp chicken bouillon

1 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. chili powder

1 tbsp. tomato paste

1 cup peeled and diced potato

2 cups cabbage, chopped

1 cup lentils, boiled in water until cooked, drained

1 zucchini, shredded

1/2 cup parsley, chopped

1 packet egg roll wrappers

Sambuca filling takes a little bit to make, stick with medium heat to keep everything from burning.

First step, prepare the filling:

Get a very large pan – start with the onion and oil. Sautee over medium heat until the onion is golden. Add the ground beef and break it into the smallest pieces possible (to me, everything in the sambuca filling should be pretty finely chopped – the best sambucas are the ones where you get lots of veggies and meat mixed together in every bite). Cook the beef until you don’t see any more pink. Add the garlic, all spices and tomato paste. Cook for 1 minute. Add potatoes, cook for two minutes. Add cooked lentils, cook for another 2 minutes. Add zucchini and cook for 5 minutes. Add parsley and cook for 1 more minute. Check to make sure that the potatoes are cooked and then remove from heat. Let the mixture cool.

First, lay out the dough on a board, place a little bit of filling on the corner and start folding it in a triangle pattern.

Now the wrapping:

You can make your own sambuca wrappers, and I’m sure that some people do, but this process is not an easy (or short) one, so I went with the wrappers to take a little bit of work out of the process.

Take the packet of egg roll wrappers and slice the wrappers in half lengthways so that you have two-inch wide strips (they’ll be about 4 – 5 inches long). Make yourself a small bowl of flour and water paste.

Lay one strip flat on a cutting board or plate. Place a small amount of filling in the top corner.

Once I had the sambucas folded almost all the way (so they looked like a cone), I added a little more filling.

Carefully fold the wrapper diagonally so that it forms a triangular roll (think of it like those little paper footballs  -that’s about how you fold it). Right before I folded the last flap, I put in just a little more filling, then sealed with the flour/water paste.

Here's a plate of fully folded, but unfried sambucas.

Last step, frying:

If you’ve gotten this far, I’m going to guess that you can handle the frying pretty easily. Place the sambucas in about 1/4 inch of hot oil; fry until golden brown on both sides, flipping once each side is complete.

Fry the sambucas for a just a little bit on each side - until they're golden brown.

Place on a plate with a paper towel to absorb some of the oil.

While nothing will ever taste quite the same as it tasted 10 – 15 years ago, these were wonderful and very similar to the “real thing.”  My boyfriend and roommate (who have no connection to Yemen) also loved it.

One note – you can put a lot of different types of vegetables into this recipe so don’t feel restricted – try carrots, eggplant, whatever.

A Little Dinner, A Little Wine – Taverna, Austin

13 Jul

For my first restaurant review, I will preface my post by saying that all I can offer is my “amateur” opinion of any restaurant. I can tell you how I felt about the service, the wine, the atmosphere and the food. I cannot speak to whether a dish was “perfectly rendered in the XYZ style” or anything along those lines. I have no formal training in cooking, so take my opinions on the work of professional chefs for what you will. I will offer my thoughts on good dishes, bad ones, things to watch out for, and great deals that I find around the city. With all of that out there, tonight was a lovely night at Taverna, so I thought I would share a bit.

Beef carpiccio at Taverna was delicious- and look at how pretty it is!

Located in the ever-chic 2nd street district, Taverna is both comfortable and “cool” at the same time. I’m a big fan of patios and theirs is great – it’s in a perfect spot for people watching, and it has thick plastic siding that they can put down in case it’s a bit too cold (they keep it up when it’s warm out, though).

I was with a group of girls, looking for just a little bit of wine and light dinner. Our server was knowledgeable about the wine list, and helped us to choose a wine that would work for all of our varying tastes in wine. While the wine we eventually picked was a little pricier than we had hoped, it was an excellent choice.

For dinner, I had the beef capriccio. Although it’s supposed to be an appetizer, I thought it was plenty for a small dinner. I was a big fan of their presentation – thin slices of capriccio topped with arugula, and big flakes of shaved Parmesan. It has a very light dressing that tastes slightly lemony. According to the menu, it also contained truffle oil – which might have been what made it so delicious.

One of my friends had this pasta dish - which I believe is the Garganelli al Pomodoro e Basilico. I had a bite and loved this too.

I have to say that, while I’m not normally a fan of arugula, I ate every bite.

The only complaint I have is that Taverna does tend to be a bit pricy, but in my opinion, the quality of the ingredients justifies the cost.

A final note about the best-known meal at Taverna – their Sunday brunch is incredibly popular in Austin. I’ve been for brunch a few times, and it’s always great, but what really “sells” it is the $1 bellinis and mimosas – yes they’re delicious and inexpensive. The real question is if you’re willing to wait around for a table – which is almost always an issue. If you have the time, though, it’s worth eating brunch there at least once.

The “Secret” of Spaghetti Squash

8 Jul

It seems that there are two types of people in this world – those who are more than familiar with the idea of spaghetti squash and think it’s a pretty normal thing, and those who have no idea
what you’re talking about when you use the term “spaghetti squash.” You can tell you’re talking to the second type when you have a conversation like this:
“What are you eating?”
“Spaghetti Squash.”
“huh…” they smile awkwardly, look at the dish, which does not appear to contain squash, and then walk away thinking “maybe there was some squash mixed in with that pasta.”

I was one of the people who didn’t know about spaghetti squash for quite a while – I think I first tried it about 2 years ago.

For others who were not in on the secret, spaghetti squash is a type of squash that, once
cooked, comes out of its shell in very nice thin strings – similar to spaghetti pasta. It makes a great pasta substitute, and can be eaten in much the same way that you eat spaghetti.
Here’s the best part – it’s easy to make and healthier than eating regular pasta. It’s not exactly super-food, but take a look at the nutrition facts and you’ll see that it’s probably better than pasta unless you’re intentionally carb loading. Here’s a basic recipe that I’ve used a few times.

1 Spaghetti Squash
About 4 – 5 Tablespoons Water
4-5 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1-2 Cloves of Garlic, minced
1 – 2 Tomatoes, chopped into small pieces
4-5 Leaves of Fresh Basil, chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 350.

This first step is the most difficult, after that, it’s easy – you have to cut the squash in half length-ways. This can be tricky since it’s pretty big and hard-shelled. Just get a good knife, plunge it into the middle, and slowly work your way through –careful not to cut yourself with the knife!

Scoop out & discard the seeds from the inside of the squash. At this point, you will see nothing that even vaguely resembles spaghetti except for the seed & strings that you’re scooping out – that’s ok.

Get a baking sheet with edges on it, and put a tiny bit of water in it – just enough to create a small layer in the bottom of the sheet.

Put the squash, cut side down, onto the sheet with the water and pop them in the oven.
Bake for 35 – 45 minutes – the squash is ready when a sharp knife pierces the skin pretty easily.

Let the squash cool a little, then, when it’s cool enough to handle, hold it in one hand so that you’re looking at the cut side. You will still see no spaghetti-looking bits.

Get a fork, poke it into the “meat” of the squash at one end, and run the fork all the way down to the other end of the squash – NOW you’ll see that as it comes out, the squash looks like spaghetti.

When the squash is finished cooking and you run a fork through the "meat", it will come out as strings of spaghetti.

Use the fork to get all of the meat out of both sides of the squash and place in a bowl.
At this point, you can do just about anything with the squash. I prefer to keep it pretty simple – pour a few glugs of olive oil on it, and toss with garlic, basil, and tomato pieces. Add salt and pepper to taste. I’ve also heard that it’s great with Alfredo sauce – I imagine that there are quite a few options.