Monday, September 28, 2009

"let's take the country road"

Last night's dinner: The Woodland
Last night's song: "The Woodlands National Anthem" Arcade Fire

What a busy week it has been. I am sick today with a bad achy cough. So I did something I rarely do and took a sick day. No one wants me coughing and sneezing around the little ones. I think the sickness has a little to do with all the running around we've been doing the past week. I haven't cooked since last Wednesday, which feels really odd. And with the illness, I'm not cooking tonight, either. least not anything too complicated.

All that being said, we had an fantastic weekend, other than my slightly sore throat (that has now morphed into a full on hacking cough). We spent the weekend- which included a road trip!- with the folks from Everything Is Terrible who were in Texas to screen their amazing and surreal movie. We had a fantastic time with these guys and I'm happy to say we walked away from the weekend with seven new good friends. I mean, how can you not immediately love people that walk around a sketchy Houston mall dressed like this? Really- if you like irony, creepy puppets, and gray-area copyright infringement, visit their website. If you like what you see, buy their movie. I watched it twice in 24 hours and laughed just as much the second time around. These people are doing the lord's work.

Ok, enough gushing...onto the road trip recap! We started out in Lockhart, the BBQ capital of Texas. Although we didn't try any (pesky vegetarians, remember?) the EIT guys reported very good things. We went to Lockhart to meet a poster dealer who was kind enough to let us riffle through his awesome collection. No BBQ in my belly, but I did walk away with this beauty to put up in my kitchen.

Isn't it nice? The plot actually sounds kind of cute, and involves a food critic! My sweet husband picked up a copy at Vulcan on his way home for his sick wife to watch while he brings her hot tea with honey. Sheesh- a kitchey food movie and tea? I'll be better in no time.

We spent Saturday evening at the Alamo Drafthouse in Houston, then headed to Poison Girl for drinks. I really liked this bar, even though I was a little turned off by the name at first. It had a really nice atmosphere and crowd. Plus there's a big Kool Aid man on the patio.

Sunday we got up and headed to meet my high school bf and her husband and step daughter for lunch. We ended up meeting in The Woodlands and my awesome, all Woodlands food day was set in motion. Ricos was our lunch destination, and although my fish tacos were a little fishy, the salsa was good and the guitar player dancing the Macarena with a table full of kids was pretty adorable. Plus, we really enjoyed seeing our friends.

Ha- did you like how I did that, there?

We headed back to Austin after lunch, driving up pretty Hwy. 105 through Conroe and Brenham. I can't believe we didn't get Blue Bell ice cream while we were in Brenham. Strike 2 for not taking advantage of good road trip food. But I feel a little less bad seeing that the factory isn't open for weekend tours. While driving, though, we saw 2 people eating ice cream cones in their pickup trucks. Nice.

Last night we ended our party time with the EIT kids at The Woodland. We picked the place where most of them would eat their last Austin meal (at least until they come back to visit us!) and The Woodland did not disappoint. I got my usual- stuffed tomato with toasted orzo, oyster mushrooms, spinach and asiago- which is always immensely satisfying and special. The hit of the table, however, was the Veggie Burger, which is made in house and is the most beautiful red/pink color I've ever seen on something that didn't used to live in a field and say moo. I intended to take a picture of our food, but by the time I had the thought and got out the camera, everyone was already chowing down. I was going to take the pictures anyway, but looking around and all of us happily scarfing our food, I realized that the beauty of that moment wasn't so much the image of the meal. So I just ate and "mmmm"ed along with everyone else. Take a look at the pictures on the restaurant website for an idea of the cool atmosphere. And then go eat there and see how the food holds its own ascetically amongst all the stylized tree bark. Mmm. When can I go back?

I chose the Arcade Fire song because I couldn't resist the Woodland/Woodlands thing. But we mainly listened to Screwston rap when we were driving around. So, in honor of Houston, I present the top 5 alternative titles for this post :

5. "if you've never been to Texas its a picture to paint, cause we doin' it real big in case you thinkin' we aint" -Bun B (not food related, I know. But my Texas pride and my love of food happily coexist.)

4. "on the dining room table... you able to realize I'm the truth and not a fable" -UGK

3. "you can't handle the weight...not like them boys up in the Lone Star state" -Pimp C (R.I.P.)

2. "open up my mouth and you see mo' carats than a salad" - Paul Wall

and now for number one...

"put some south in your mouth" -36 Mafia (who are from Memphis, I know, but recorded a remix of International Players Anthem with UGK that opens with this outstanding lyric. so there.)

There's actually-strangely- a lot of reference to food in Dirty South music. Land of grain? Candy paint? Grills? Anyone else hungy yet?

Thanks to the mighty Alamo Drafthouse, Everything is Terrible, and of course Houston for a killer weekend.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"i lived through a record one summer last fall"

Last night's dinner...Orzo with Garbanzo Beans and Feta
Last night's song..."One Summer Last Fall" Jets to Brazil

Happy autumn! It is a beautiful day in Austin. We got 3 inches of rain last night and the highs today are in the mid 70's. It is rare that on the first day of fall we would see such a dramatic change and I really hope it sticks. Tonight I'm planning a cool weather meal: vegetable soup and cheddar biscuits from the lovely Bread & Honey blog that I fortuitously ran across last night. And I am even more excited to eat it knowing that temperatures might to get into the 5o's this evening. Yay!

Now, about last night's meal...the last meal of summer. I first want to offer the disclaimer that last night's dinner wasn't totally amazing. I was hurrying to feed us. We were both starving after work- we ate so much polenta leftovers during the weekend that our Monday lunch leftovers were puny. If my last post was praising meals that took a long time to prepare, this one is lauding the benefit of a fast meal. This took me only 30 minutes, thanks largely to the pasta/vegetable cooking trick I picked up from 101cookbooks. Cooking pasta and vegetables in the same pot?! Genius. I rarely cook pasta now without throwing some green beans, asparagus, or broccoli in the pot. It's so easy, it just seems silly not to.

I had an orzo-garbanzo-cheese combination in mind for a few days after seeing this recipe. The original has a lot of potential and is a good starting point...the gritty garbanzos compliment the silky orzo quite nicely. I changed a lot to make this into a full meal and to use things I had in my fridge. Maybe you can figure out what extra thing would have made this fantastic instead of pretty good. My best guess is more fat- a creamier sauce or pesto, perhaps? I also think toasted pine nuts or walnuts would have added a lot. It sure looked pretty, though. :)

Orzo with Garbanzo Beans & Feta
(makes 2 servings, or 4 as a side dish)
1 1/2 cups orzo
1 15 ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

small bunch broccoli, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
8-10 mushrooms, sliced

handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped (or herb of your choice)

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup feta cheese

1/2 cup parmesan

s & p

Bring large pan of salted water to boil. Add orzo and boil for 2 minutes, then throw in broccoli florets. Boil all until just tender, about 5 more minutes. This whole process should take about 7 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In large skillet, heat 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1/2 tablespoon olive oil. Saute onions and mushrooms until they begin to get soft, then add garbanzo beans and garlic. Give it a good stir and then add orzo and broccoli. Add additional butter and olive oil and s & p. Remove from heat and stir in tomatoes, basil, and feta cheese. Serve topped with parmesan.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

"rowdy, stumblin'"

Ok, no "real" post today. I just had to say that I am having WAY too much fun with my Tumblr page. I'm using it as a planning board for things I'd like to cook. There are so many beautiful websites out there with such amazing food pictures. I might be addicted.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

"so many times, it happens too fast"

Last night's dinner...Polenta enchiladas, Caesar Salad
Last night's song..."Eye of the Tiger" Survivor

I really love polenta. My devotion began several Christmases ago when I received a copy of Debrorah
Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and read her beautiful description of preparing polenta:

"Averse as we are to giving time to simple tasks, it's the time spent cooking that brings the full corn flavor...I don't mind the [30 minutes of] stirring if I'm not rushed. I find it provides a quiet time to catch up on some reading--I just put my book near the stove and read while I stir."

When I read this for the first time, I was just beginning to really utilize the kitchen room of my home, and these few lines helped me figure out what it's all about. "Giving time to simple tasks"-- what a lovely sentiment. Cooking isn't always about the 30 minute meal. Like polenta, sometimes even the most simple things are made that much better with a little time and effort. This week, recipes for polenta based meals popped up on both the Kitchn and the October issue of Vegetarian Times. My favorite meal was calling my name.

This meal took me about an hour and a half from first chop to first bite. The time was wonderfully leisurely, though... in the kitchen with my husband, sipping our first Dogfish Punkin Ale of the season, talking about the work week, and cooking a beautiful meal. I felt like a champ.

Polenta Enchiladas
For polenta:
4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
2 cups water
2 cups polenta (stone ground corn meal)
2 tablespoons butter
handful of fresh chopped cilantro

For filling:
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
1/2 large zucchini, chopped
1/2 large crookneck squash, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, quartered
1 mild chili pepper, chopped (I used Hatch, could also use poblano or red bell pepper)
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
handful of fresh chopped cilantro
1 1/4 cups verde salsa (I used Central Market Hatch Chili salsa)
1 cup grated cheddar or monterey jack cheese

To make the polenta: Bring vegetable broth and two cups water to a boil in a large heavy saucepan. Reduce heat to simmer and begin to add the polenta in a fine rain. Whisk constantly until the polenta is free of big chunks. With a long handle spoon, continue to stir polenta over low heat until it is very thick and begins to pull away from the side of the pan. This usually takes about 20 minutes, but may take longer. While polenta is still hot, stir in 2 tablespoons butter and cilantro. Thinly and evenly spread about half of the warm polenta into baking dish to create a bottom for the enchiladas.
To assemble enchiladas: Lightly heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion and saute until onion begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add zucchini, yellow squash, chili, garlic, mushrooms, and corn. Stir well until all vegetables begin to soften and release juices. Stir in beans and spices and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Once everything is combined and squash is cooked but still firm, remove from heat and stir in cilantro.
Layer vegetables on polenta. Top with 1/2 cup cheese and 1/2 cup salsa. Gently spread the remaining polenta over the top. Top with remaining salsa and cheese and bake a 375 for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 or 10 minutes before serving. Serve with sour cream, if you like.

This morning, I used leftovers of this wonderfully versatile food to make brunch: farm fresh scrambled eggs (thanks to our city dwelling, chicken owning friends!) over polenta, topped with hot sauce and blue corn chips. Satisfying and delicious.
Polenta, you had me at hello.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

“learn from the vegetables”

Last night’s dinner…Baked Spaghetti Squash, Salad, Bread 
Last night’s song… “Day” Bill Callahan  

This summer, Austin Texas experienced a heat wave. And it wasn’t the usual Texas weather, like we all tried to tell ourselves as we were living through it. We’re talking 85 straight days of temperatures over 100 degrees. Barton Springs started drying up. Due to water restrictions, many lawns and gardens bit the dust. And, in the later summer, water restrictions required restaurant patrons to request drinking water for the table. We are living through “the most severe drought in the nation.”  
Cut to: my house. This year, we decided to put in a vegetable garden in our front yard. I’ve already mentioned my buddy Michael Pollan, who is a huge grow your own advocate, stating in this recent interview that Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden doing more for reforming the food system than any other move in the administration. (Yay, Michelle. What a freakin’ hip first family we have!) In February, I attended a training at Sustainable Food Center about starting a school garden, which was completely inspirational for work and home. At it’s peak, we were growing 4 squash varieties, okra, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, 4 or 5 types of peppers, chard, green beans, and every herb you can imagine in our front yard. It was really beautiful. 

Taken early June

Last night I used a spaghetti squash from our garden that’s been hanging out for a couple of months. It was small, and I was never inspired to cook it when I first picked it. We had a few more during the season that were gorgeous and firm, perfect with nothing but olive oil, s & p, and parmesan cheese. But this little one just didn’t call out to me. Over the weekend my husband asked “When are we gonna eat this guy?” Good question.
When I got home from work yesterday, I immediately went to the garden to see what my happy plants had to offer. There was more than I expected. I harvested a nice amount of swiss chard and a big bushel of Thai basil. When I cut open our little squash, there were some sprouted seeds inside, but it was a beautiful yellow color.  

After consulting for a baked spaghetti squash recipe, I put together this nice, fresh and satisfying meal consisting of garden spaghetti squash, garden chard, tomato sauce, and cheese.

Baked Spaghetti Squash 
For Sauce
½ white onion, chopped 
1 tablespoon olive oil 
2 cloves minced garlic 
1 can diced tomatoes 
About 10-15 fresh basil leaves (I used Thai basil and liked the little spice) 
Sprinkle cracked red pepper 
For the bake:  
1 spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise and seeded 
Small bunch chard, kale, or spinach, chopped small  
1 cup fresh mozzarella cheese, chopped small 
¼ cup Parmesan cheese 

Cook the spaghetti squash in your preferred way. This link provides a great rundown of different spaghetti squash cooking methods. I always microwave it, and it always turns out perfect. While squash is cooking, make tomato sauce. Saute onion in about 1 tablespoon olive oil with sprinkle of red pepper. When onion becoming soft and translucent, add tomatoes. Simmer for a few minutes, until tomatoes begin to break up. Add basil and garlic and give it a quick stir. Allow to simmer for a few minutes more, until flavors have mingled. (By the way, add whatever you like to your favorite homemade sauce. This is my go-to recipe. Just don’t overcook your garlic, please!) Once your spaghetti squash is cooked, it’s time to assemble the bake. Remove squash strands from the squash using a fork. Based on the size of your squash, layer a small-medium baking dish with a spoonful of your tomato sauce, a layer of squash, chopped chard (no need to pre-cook), and mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers until ingredients are used, finishing with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 325 for 10-15 minutes until cheese is bubbly and melted. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving. The spaghetti squash will release a lot of liquid, so be careful when you’re serving as to not have a watery meal.  

Yummm. A homegrown meal for early fall/late summer. My happy plants and happy belly have inspired me to revisit my garden. I trust the time has come to plant again, and that the sun will be my friend and not scorch my little plant babies. So today I ventured out to Natural Gardener and chose plants for my fall garden-- cauliflower, collard greens, broccoli, artichoke, and lots of lettuce. We'll plant this weekend, and I’m looking forward to getting back outside. Looking at these little ones, I’m practically giddy anticipating driving up to a flourishing, overflowing front yard again.  

Hi, babies.

On a personal note, I've learned a lot from my chard- strong and thriving through hardships of summer, making a year cycle back to its supposed fall growing season. When I started a garden with my preschoolers, it became quickly apparent that you can learn just about everything while digging in the dirt.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

"you remind me of home"

Yesterday's Brunch…Black beans, French bread, sliced cherry tomatoes, smashed potatoes, sautéed spinach, & tomatillo salsa (a.k.a. Marfa dinner)
and the song…"Home" Ben Gibbard

In April, the husband and I visited Marfa, Texas for the second time. During our stay, we were lucky enough to eat at Cochineal. We went twice, actually. The first time we went for dinner and both had the vegetarian plate (not on the menu) consisting of ratatouille, lemon mashed potatoes, bok choy, and asparagus. The second time we went for brunch and had the vegan breakfast plate (also not on the menu). Amazing and fantastic on all counts. When you go to Marfa, which you should, do not miss this place. And Marfa is a small town, so it is totally ok to go twice.

But what is truly remarkable about Cochineal is that the food stuck with me. This specific restaurant inspired two meals in my home that we now eat at least twice a month. I use the
ratatouille recipe from the Kitchn, and it is hands down one of the most delicious things I have made or will ever make. My only alteration is that I don’t pre-salt the eggplant. It cooks for long enough as is, so the bitter taste isn’t a problem. Still a lengthy cooking process for this recipe, but so worth it. I usually serve with fresh bread and olive oil with a good drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Although the last time I made it with baked cheesy polenta. Mmmmmm….

The second meal that sticks is something we’ve termed Marfa dinner. It is a combination of completely satisfying things you wouldn’t necessarily think belong together. But man oh man, is it great. Slow cooked black beans, tomatoes, potatoes, spinach (kale or swiss chard is even better), and bread with a little salsa on the side. I use the 101cookbooks
smashed potatoes recipe. Oh, and her recipe for garlicky greens minus the parmesan. And maybe the one for roasted tomatoes, too. (P.S. In total Julie & Julia style: “I love you, Heidi.” Every little thing you do is magic, and it is very likely that one day my blog will just be a direct link to your blog.)

So yesterday's brunch got me thinking about food that sticks. What I bring home from the best vacations is something I get to make mine and incorporate into my home, which I guess it is the same concept as any souvenir. Each time I cook that meal, the smells and tastes of that other place comes back to me. Often, it leads to a conversation with the people I’m sharing the meal with about the inspiration behind it. Souvenir food is a way to ensure that special moments from your vacation become a part of your home and a part of you. Our awesome realtor said it best right after we bought our house in November 2007:

"...matter absorbs energy...the more you plant around your new space, and the more art you bring in and music you play and laughter and good cooking- it will suck all that up and be ALL YOURS!"


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"this boy could use a little sting"

Last night’s dinner…Labor Day Cookout
Last night’s song… "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth" Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

The Labor Day weekend is over, which means that fall is fastly approaching. And in Austin, that means maybe—hopefully—our days of 100+ degrees are waning. Things are already looking up. We had bursts of rain here and there throughout the weekend. This week it looks like temperatures are in the lower to mid 90’s.

We had a fantastic cookout yesterday with a handful of good friends. We grilled zucchini, potatoes, Hatch chilies and onion, and veggie dogs. Friends contributed a black bean salad, chips and dip, and plenty of beer. But the highlight of the meal was my husband’s invention…spicy marinated corn. Now, I’ve already mentioned how much we love spice in my house. I went to get myself ready for company and left the corn to my husband. And what a fantastic job he did.

Spicy Marinated Corn

5 fresh corn ears
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
generous sprinkle of cracked red pepper
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce (not salsa- he used Crystal)
s & p

In large pan, mix olive oil, spices, soy sauce, and hot sauce. Roll corn in marinade to evenly coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cracked red pepper. Allow to marinate for a least 1 hour, turning corn occasionally to let the marinate soak in. When your grill is hot, wrap each corn ear in foil and put directly over heat. Cook for 20-30 minutes, turning occasionally, or until tender.

Looking at the list of ingredients, the spice seems overwhelming, I know. But the sweetness of the fresh corn compliments the spice so nicely. I could also see this being good with herbs (if you wanted to do less spicy) and butter. The key to this grilled corn seems to be doing something different than people expect. Fresh sweet corn with butter and salt and pepper is hard to beat, but a lot of us have been eating that all summer. An unexpected and gutsy marinate can add some…ahem…spice to your end-of-summer cookouts.


P.S. A big huge thank you to my sweetie for this recipe, the song recommendation ("you corn"), and for the great food pictures.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

"come on home any old time"

Last night’s dinner…Dad’s birthday meal: T-Bone Steak, mushrooms, corn on the cob, fingerling potatoes, grilled zucchini, deviled eggs, mozzarella and tomato salad, and Bananas Foster.

Last night’s song…"Ain't No Trouble To Me" Guy Clark

Cooking with my Dad.

This weekend I had a highly anticipated fall off the wagon. First, a little personal background. About 3 ½ years ago, I decided to stop eating meat. I mainly did this because my husband had decided to give it up about a year prior, my mom had given it up about 6 months before, and because a lot of my friends were vegetarian. I also hated handling raw meat, so I was already cooking exclusively vegetarian. What I told those that asked was simply that it was a way to be healthier and have more control over what I was eating, which is true, but I’m fairly certain looking back that it also had to do with wanting to fit in with my loved ones.

There is one loved one, however, that this decision distinctly separated me from. I grew up in 2 proper Texas homes in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. In both my mom and step dad’s home and my dad and step mom’s home, we ate pot roast on Sundays, complete with mashed potatoes, fried okra, and cantaloupe. Even after my step-dad gave up meat 11 years ago (he was way ahead of the curve, apparently), my mom continued to cook us meat. This essentially meant cooking 2 meals a night, which is a hell of a dedication to the meat eating lifestyle. Whatever we were eating, though, both sets of parents were dedicated to home cooking and family dinners. I’m so grateful to them for feeding me right when I was a kid.

So announcing to my dad that I wasn't going to eat a hamburger with him for the first time was really hard. In the list of difficult things I’ve had to talk to my dad about, it falls somewhere between getting a ‘D’ in college Latin my first semester at UT (which was easier to tell him about) and explaining why I broke curfew when I was 15 and out with my first boyfriend- and his dad (which was harder and scarier than breaking the veg news.) I equate it most closely with telling him I had pierced my nose during my second year of college. I waited until I was about 2 miles from his house and called him and begged him to not be mad at me. I had gone 3 months without telling him.

But here’s the great thing about my Dad…the things I’ve worried about have never made him mad. And that’s because he’s a really good dad. We’ve grown close in my adult life, and while he probably would have preferred for me to not become a dirty liberal with a nose ring and a finicky diet, he’s always been completely fine with it. (P.S.- the nose ring is now defunct- I took it out about 1 month after telling him because it always hurt. In the battle of comfort versus cute, comfort won.)

Ok, back to food. First, I still (inaccurately) call myself a vegetarian 3 ½ years later. But my reasoning behind eating primarily vegetarian has evolved. This isnt’t the right time to go into it, since I mainly mean this post to be dedicated to family and the importance of tradition. The soap box will come later. I’ll just say that if you haven’t already done so, please read Omnivore’s Dilemma. Michael Pollan somehow simultaneously made me more resolved about eating vegetarian and also convinced me to eat meat again. Pollan preaches the message of awareness and sustainability. And everything I learn teaches me that meat practices in the US are badly broken. So the only way I’m ok with meat is to get meat that is out of the system—raised and slaughtered by people I know or (when it's available) hunted.

For my dad’s birthday, I bought him meat from a steer raised by a dear family friend of ours. My mom (the other ‘vegetarian’) bought the rest of the cow and actually went to meet him before he was processed. So my family had some real connection to this creature. My dad asked if I’d share a steak with him for his birthday and since this guy fell under my meat-eating guidelines, I agreed.

Our happy and healthy cow, several weeks before he was processed.

My sweet husband (who, for the record, is a REAL vegetarian- no fish or nothin’) was very supportive of the whole process. Plus, he had a lot of tasty and fresh things to eat, too. My meal was delicious and extremely enjoyable. I savored each bite and did my best to emit gratitude. Gratitude for the life of the steer, for my family, for good food and the privilege of sharing it with others.

I chose this song because it is mine and my dad's song. This song was the father/daughter dance at our wedding, and my dad still quotes it to me all the time. I grew up on Texas food and Texas music. God bless Guy Clark. He tells great stories, and on top of it all has a deep affection for food. I'm not sure if there's ever been a food love song better than "Homegrown Tomatoes". So in the spirit of gratitude and tradition, I'll just thank Guy, too.

Enjoy this long weekend. Eat good food, drink good beer, and seek out good people. And don't forget to say "thank you."


Friday, September 4, 2009

"gonna walk around and drink some more"

Last night's dinner...Beer and pizza
Last night's song..."Party Pit" The Hold Steady

First of all- yay for Friday!! There are good things planned for this weekend all around.

After a wild and crazy Thursday with the wee ones, I was ready for a drink. So I got dolled up and the hubby and I headed out to search for beer and something to soak it all up. We agreed today that it was an excellent beer night, so I thought it was worth writing about.

A good buddy of ours that works at the Flying Saucer made a comment a few weeks ago that he was excited for October because it is the best month for beer. So true. Last night we started with some Texas October brews- namely Live OakSaint Arnold's Oktoberfest. People complain all the time about not being able to get good beer in Texas. And I get that, I do- the whole TABC thing is definitely screwy. But these beers and these breweries give me yet another reason to be proud to live in the lone star state. Oaktoberfest and

We split an Abita Andy Gator for the last beer of the evening (or so I thought...). We then headed to The Parlor on North Loop for delicious pizza, which is even better after/with beer. We got there and had to wait for a while, so we returned to Texas once more for a Live Oak Big Bark, which is possibly my favorite beer of all time. Something about it is just perfect. The fact that it is also the only beer that never gives me migraines (in fact, on occasion I've drank it when I had a headache and it helped) pushes it over the top for me. I can't express enough love for this beer.

It was a nice ending to a crazy day...sitting on the patio at a killer pizza place in our old 'hood, sipping my favorite beer with my favorite person. Just the right combo to make a girl feel all warm and fuzzy. I am very blessed. And who better than Craig Finn and the boys to remind us of the elation that can come from one too many? Happy summertime.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"you just did what you're supposed to do"

Last night's dinner...Vegetarian Tortilla Soup and Mexican Salad

Last night's music..."One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)" Bob Dylan

I've been going back and forth about the idea of a cooking/eating blog for a while now. The thing that really pushed me over the edge and made me think "now is the time" was chopping up a big fresh bowl of cilantro. Plucking off each individual leaf, separating the pieces into usable and compostable was pure bliss for me yesterday afternoon. So much so in fact that I was late meeting my friend for a happy hour beer. But at that moment, the beer could wait. It was the cilantro calling my name.

A lot of this herb went into our dinner last night, which was spicy, fresh, and quite satisfying. Leftovers today left me with a swollen and burning lips, which sounds not so good unless you like your food to have that sort of affect on you (which is how we roll in our household). So be warned this is very hot and adjust this recipe to your taste.

My iTunes was on random, and I have to say that this song is not the usual thing I'd probably be listening to while preparing dinner. While chopping said cilantro, I was listening to the new Mountain Goats album and desperately seeking the next "Lovecraft in Brooklyn" (I'm sorry to report that there isn't one. I still love you, John Darnielle.) But something connected with this song and the meal I was preparing. Tortilla Soup strikes me as one of those things you don't really need a recipe for. It seems somewhat intrinsic- broth, vegetables, spice, tortillas. Throw it all in a big pot. Top with creamy, fatty goodness. And so this traditional (and undeniably awesome) song seemed to fit well with this simple (and simply perfect) meal.

I served this with a salad that was very thrown together, but delicious. It was a mix of corn, pinto beans, red bell pepper, tomatoes, cilantro, and feta cheese. Serve over a bed of greens with a little citrusy vinaigrette.


Vegetarian Tortilla Soup
Adapted from Epicurious.

1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cup chopped red onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste (although I used ketchup. classy, I know)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 can Rotel Tomatoes and juices (I used "Hot" and they aren't kidding)
3 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup water
4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
4 corn tortillas, cut into strips
15 oz. canned black beans, drained and rinsed
2/3 cup chopped zucchini
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
1/2 hatch chili (hooray for Hatch Chili season in Austin, Texas! poblanos, seranos, even bell pepper would work fine here)

Gently heat olive oil in large saucepan. Add onion and cook on medium-low for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Stir in tomato paste, cumin, chili powder, and garlic. Add canned tomatoes, broth, water, and half of your cilantro. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Add beans, zucchini, mushrooms, and chili pepper to soup. Simmer for 10 minutes to allow flavors to combine. Add tortillas and simmer for about 5 more minutes, until tortillas have started to break down.

Top with more fresh cilantro. Also sour cream, avocado, cheese... any and all things creamy and savory that will help cut the heat of the soup. Oh, and don't forget some tortillas chip crumbles for a crunch.