Tag Archives: Austin

My Finds at the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival 2010

1 Sep

Hot sauce is an amazing invention. My favorite type of hot sauce is salsa (I live in Texas, after all) – it’s flavorful, healthy, and there are so many types that you could eat them all day and never run out of new types to try. That brings me to a wonderful event that we have in Austin every year – the Austin Chronicle’s Hot Sauce Festival. One can sample dozens (maybe hundreds) of types of salsa and other hot sauces both from restaurants and individuals.

Excitingly, this festival offers not only quite a few awesome salsas, but also other spicy sauces that can be used as dips or marinades. I thought I’d share a few of my “finds” from the festival with you all.  (side note – my sister and one of her friends came with me, and also gave their opinions on the best “finds” – we agreed on pretty much everything).

Kala’s Kuisine’s Cilantro Chutney

This Chutney would be great on lots of different dishes. I want to try it with chicken. (Apologies to Kala and to readers for the blurriness - I was trying to snap a quick picture!)

Kala’s Kuisine had some really interesting salsas with a Nepalese twist. All of their sauces were tasty and had a unique flavor, but for me, the star of the show was, without question, the Cilantro Chutney. It was fresh tasting, and seemed like it would be perfect in about a thousand different recipes. I think it could be a great sauce on chicken, enchiladas, nachos and pretty much anything else you can think of.

If only I had arrived in time to buy a bottle (they sold out)!

The good news is that there are a few places around town that sell the Chutney (and even more that sell their other sauces) including Whole Foods. See their website for locations.

Sweet, spicy, unique barbeque-like sauce. I love it!

Grandaddy’s Sweet Southern Heat

This was probably my favorite find of the festival. As the name implies, it’s a barbecue-type sauce that is both spicy and sweet. The spice tasted to me like a strong black pepper instead of a hot pepper – though I have no idea what actually adds the spiciness. According to the folks working the booth, the sauce was actually their grandfather’s recipe- and there were quite a few photos of Grandaddy up around the booth.

Upon tasting, my sister and I both immediately bought a jar of the sauce. Tonight, I had a baked potato with a little bit of Sweet Southern Heat, onions, and mushrooms on it – WOW. I also have plans to invite over a few of my meat-eating friends to make some ribs or chicken wings featuring the sauce.

This sauce doesn’t have great distribution – but you can get it at Tears of Joy here in Austin, and at a few stores in other cities. I’m sure that they’ll have wider distribution soon, based on how happy everyone seemed tasting it.

La Familia Salsa Company’s Roasted Green Salsa

Supposedly I'm sharing this jar with my sister. I haven't told her yet that I dont' really want to share...

This booth had quite a few salsas to taste, but the very friendly woman working there recommended that we try the Roasted Green Salsa. She made the right choice. You could actually taste the “roastedness” in the salsa and it has a great level of spiciness without being overpowering.

I bought a bottle of this too. It appears that you can order the salsa on their website, and perhaps they’ll be kind enough to reply to this post to let us all know if it’s available locally in Austin.

Don’t Panic Hispanic Salsa

Local, delicious, and super fresh.

Don’t Panic Hispanic was the 2009 winner of the Festival. It’s also been one of my favorite salsas ever since my friend Emily introduced me to it about 6 months ago. It’s amazingly fresh tasting, heavy on garlic, and a perfect “medium” level of spiciness. I prefer the red salsa, but also sampled the green, which was quite tasty.

I buy my “Don’t Panic Hispanic” salsa at Fresh Plus, but apparently it’s also available in a few other locations, including Spec’s. If you’re looking for a traditional, but excellent salsa, I highly recommend this one.

We tasted quite a few different salsas and other sauces at the festival – some good, some terrible, and, happily, a few that are worth trying again soon. I could write about salsa all night, and I promise to provide you all with my mother’s salsa recipe soon. For now, though, I hope you’ll give some of these salsas and sauces a try.


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!

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.


CSAs – Local, Fresh Veggies Every Week

28 Jun

One of my good friends introduced me to the concept of a CSA last summer, by giving me part of her share. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about (as I would not have a year ago), “CSA” stands for “Community-Supported Agriculture”. The basic idea is that individuals pay a set amount of money in exchange for a “share” in a farm – those individuals then get a portion of what is grown on the farm for a season. Members generally get a box (or bag) of vegetables every week based on what the farm has available that week.

This board tells me what types of vegetables I get each week

In many cases, a CSA will deliver a box of vegetables to their members every week or two (depending on what you sign up for). My CSA asks that I drive out to the farm to pick up my veggies every week, which I love because it gives me the chance to trade vegetables that I don’t like, for some that I do. Also, going out to the farm once a week is pleasant – meeting the people who work on the farm and seeing the vegetables growing makes me feel even better about what I’m eating.

There are tons of advantages to being a CSA member, so I’m just going to list out a few of my favorite:

–       I get enough vegetables for the week, and rarely have to buy veggies at the grocery store

–       All of the vegetables are organic, and locally grown

–       The CSA “assigns” me certain vegetables every week, which requires me to learn to cook vegetables that I would not otherwise have tried (see, for example, pattypan squash from a few weeks ago)

–      Eating local, in season vegetables helps me to know what I should be eating at various times during the year – and keeps me from eating vegetables that have been bread for shipping and potentially exposed to chemicals and who knows what else

–       The vegetables are fresh and flavorful

Some of the veggies on the farm stand at Green Gate Farms

I go to Green Gate Farms here in Austin, which is a pretty charming place – they grow vegetables, raise chickens for eggs (and for eating, I imagine), raise pigs, and have wildflower bouquets that are readily available at their farm stand.

On a typical week, my share is about two grocery bags of vegetables – most recently lots of squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, green beans and okra. I split my share with one of my friends which has turned out to be a great thing to do. We share recipes for the vegetables that we have that week and sharing our vegetables means that I don’t have as many to cook. I generally cook for just my boyfriend and myself so having the entire share to myself would be too much.

The biggest disadvantage I’ve found with being a CSA member is that at times, you end up with too many vegetables. Last week, for example, I didn’t have much time to cook so only a few of our vegetables were eaten. My methods for dealing with the occasionally overflowing CSA box are pretty simple:

–       Your friends probably love the idea of farm fresh vegetables – give them a few veggies (or give them your share for the week) when you feel like you have too many veggies

–       Make things that are simple – not everything has to be a labor intensive recipe – I frequently just cut up tomatoes with a little bit of vinegar and olive oil as an appetizer when I have too many

–       Make casseroles or other food that you can eat throughout the week  – that way you can eat your veggies every night, but not have to cook every night

–       I’ve heard that preserving certain vegetables is not difficult, though I haven’t tried it out yet

My CSA has worked out very well for me this year, and I’ll defiantly join again next season. I would recommend it to anyone who likes to cook and is looking to try out new recipes and vegetables that may be a little out of your comfort zone.