The Gleeful Gourmand: April 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter and Kitchen Confessions

I know it's been awhile since I've posted, and I apologize for the lack of content. Between spring break for Liam last week (in which we tried to cram in all the stuff that never gets done during a normal school week), and Easter, and general tiredness from being 6 months pregnant with twins, I've been a little lacking in motivation. Especially with the last reason, in which I sit at my computer and think, I really need to post something, anything, oh hey look! A popsicle! (or any other food at all) - or I start to check e-mail or Facebook and promptly nod off, barely dragging myself to the couch for nap.

Anyway, we had a wonderful Easter at my parent's house with a roasted rack of lamb slathered with lots of olive oil, garlic, and rosemary; roasted baby potatoes in a lemon and thyme dressing; roasted asparagus; and for the crowning moment, my mom's Strawberry Cake which I request every year and consists of angel food cake with fresh whipped cream and strawberries.

Which brings me to a totally random thought. It just occurred to me that my mom breaks one of her own (and Julia Child's) kitchen rules: If something goes wrong, don't say a thing. Nine times out of ten, your guests will never, ever notice. She has always said this to me, and it's always made me feel better about cooking mishaps. But what was the first thing she said when I walked in the door that afternoon? "The top of the cake got burnt!" She blurted out in confession. She couldn't help herself. And of course it tasted divine, and not the slightest bit burnt. That's okay, I'm constantly confessing to her about the ingredients I've forgotten, or the step I missed, also always in a confessional hush. And she always says the same thing: Don't tell anyone and they won't know!

Despite the fact the two of us always know, the taste has never suffered from it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Big City, Small Pantry

In my next installment for poking around in people's cupboards, I asked one of my oldest and dearest friends, Elizabeth, to take us through her miniscule cupboards and give me a sense of what she keeps in them. I have to say - I actually saw her kitchen in person this weekend, and I was really impressed at how good she and her roommate were at utilizing the space they have in an efficient manner, and still manage to make some tasty food. I hope you all enjoy Elizabeth's take on what it's like having a Small Pantry in a Big City:

A year ago my roommate and I moved into a wonderful apartment right in the heart of a recently gentrified neighborhood of Washington, DC. The apartment building was built in the early 20th century and thus the bedrooms are huge (12’ x 17’ each!) and the living room is even bigger. However, the cabinet space in the kitchen is sorely lacking. We have just one cupboard for our food. The top of our refrigerator is lined with our cereal boxes, and the baking goods (their use mainly executed by my roommate and consequently consumed by yours truly) are stored on the bottom shelf of a small yet extremely useful kitchen cart I inherited from my grandmother out of my mother’s attic. And that’s it! Here’s a list of the food staples that we grant the honor of occupying the cupboard:

• Three Elephant Brand, Jasmine rice
• Store brand mac and cheese
• Pasta: farfalle, spaghetti, and/or angel hair,
• Peanuts
• Granola bars
• Peanut butter
• Canned goods: baked beans, tomato soup, chicken noodle, vegetable soup, tuna fish, tomatoes, changing variety of beans
• Coffee
• Bisquick
• Lentils

The fridge gets loaded with bread, eggs, yogurt, milk, applesauce, cottage cheese, vegetables (though whether these are eaten in a timely manner is a different story – same goes with the fruit out on the counter), occasionally sandwich meat, cheese, cheese, and more cheese. The door is lined with dressings, sauces, jelly, and the other necessary condiments as well as open bottles of white wine that are finished within a few days and flat soda that is purchased for the occasional treat and never finished. The freezer currently has four cartons of ice cream (all open), frozen vegetarian microwavable food, and bags of frozen vegetables and fruit. Sometimes there is a bag of chicken breasts or fish fillet, either tilapia, salmon, or scallops. There’s also a bag of ice that I insisted on purchasing for a party, yet absolutely was not needed.

So what do we do with all of this wonderful food? I’ll start with the freezer. The frozen fruit we use to make smoothies in the summer. Frozen vegetables are best for stir frying, or just as a basic side (nothing original here). The frozen microwavable meals are mainly for lunches or when we return home starving and exhausted at the end of a long day. The ice cream we eat in every conceivable situation, including as the occasional main entrée for dinner (I’ll be hearing about this from my mother soon). We’ve also been making root beer floats with them recently too.

So what do we actually make for dinner you ask? You mean cook? It does happen. Sometimes. So this is how the typical day goes as far as eating and food prep: get up, eat a bowl of cereal, make coffee to take to work, throw a lunch together usually including yogurt, applesauce, granola, cookies if we have them and also some leftovers either from a restaurant or from a recently prepared meal. I’ll also sometimes buy salad makings and add tuna and cottage cheese to the vegetables and enjoy that. I’ve been meaning to add sunflower seeds to perfect this meal.

We are usually pretty busy in the evenings with classes, exercising of some sort, gatherings with friends, errands, and of course just the lazy evening after work. So there are not many occasions to come home straight from work, have all of the necessary ingredients and energy to prepare a full meal. There is also little motivation to prepare a full meal since it is usually cooking for one. When the perfect storm of time, energy, ingredients, and staving off hunger for an hour does come together, the following is the magic that occurs:

We’ve made basic stir fry in my handy dandy wok. If I’m eating with my vegetarian roommate, we have tofu stir fry, but I’ve also made it with chicken. Either soy sauce or hoisin, protein, and then frozen veges over rice. One time I managed to pull off Scallops Florentine, which was pretty tasty. I also found this great bean soup with vegetables recipe in the paper with which I fed myself for a week. There have been many a meal made from eggs, usually for breakfast on the weekends, but also during the week. I think we can all agree that breakfast for dinner is the best. There has been lasagna as well as vegetarian cheese casseroles that feed us for a number of days. Tacos are pretty easy and always are tasty. You can’t really go wrong with Mexican food. Make a big mix with beans and salsa, stuff inside tortillas, throw more stuff on top and bake. Eat like queen for a week. A good friend of mine recently told me about throwing a chicken breast in a slow cooker with a jar of salsa and while I am at work, the magic will happen. I will admit that I am a little wary of leaving the slow cooker on while I’m away from home, so perhaps I’ll do this over the weekend sometime. My brother and sister-in- law just gave me a rice cooker that doubles as a slow cooker, so I hope to put this to good use soon with success of perfectly cooked rice and easy meals.

Though I haven’t quite fully embraced cooking, I hope to one day have an opportunity to have the time and the mouths to feed. There are dreams of having a house full of fresh ingredients, hours on end to research a recipe, grocery shop to my heart’s content, and carefully slave away on a meal of multiple dishes which blend beautifully together be it either buttery rich French meals or completely healthy organic low fat meals. Until then I will continue to enjoy my small yet fruitful cupboard cornucopia.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

One Last Texas Entry

To cap off our eating Tour de Force through Austin, I quickly and humbly submit Chuy's. Although this is a chain restaurant, it felt like we were eating in a mom-and-pop establishment - and I say that with the utmost respect. Boasting burritos as "Big As Yo Face" and a philosophy revolving around the freshest ingredients, I can honestly say I was 100% happy we stopped here for lunch. The salsa that came with the obligatory chips was all right. I've had better, I'll be honest (and the salsa got me back for that statement by launching itself onto my shirt), but it was the creamy sauce that came with the chips that really caught my attention. Usually when you go to a Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant, the creamy sauce is kind of a glorified ranch dressing. This was so much better with fresh herbs, a very light texture, and an ultra-fresh taste. It was instantly addictive. I had the Tacos Al Carbon (apparently Lance Armstrong's favorite post-workout meal at Chuy's!), and I was 100% impressed and happy with them. The freshness of the chicken was what I especially enjoyed. It was tender, flavorful, and juicy. And that was just the chicken! The veggies were equally as fresh, and crisp, adding a nice crunch to the whole experience.

My only complaint was that the room we were in was way too loud. The acoustics were awful, and although the music was good (classic rock), it was way too loud. However, that was my one and only complaint. I highly recommend Chuy's for an authentic, fresh Tex-Mex meal.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hudson's on the Bend

Although there wasn’t a single meal we didn’t enjoy while in Austin, one really stood out from the pack: Hudson’s on the Bend. Out past the city limits in beautiful Hill Country, this incredible restaurant is tucked back off the road amidst its own gardens, and while small, it packs a huge culinary punch.

We sat outside overlooking the charming gardens, and were presented immediately with an amuse-bouche, which was a coconut, cantaloupe, and chili shooter. It was refreshing and we both loved how the different flavors came in layers. They also brought out freshly baked Parmesan bread in its own tiny cast iron skillet, which was paired with two different herbed butters.

We chose for our appetizer the Lemon saffron risotto with fresh Maine lobster topped with asparagus. The risotto was cooked perfectly, but I thought the lobster added nothing to the dish. I was prepared for it to melt in my mouth, but it didn’t – and while it wasn’t chewy, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I also thought it was strange that there were only four tiny pieces of asparagus on top of the huge mound of risotto.

For my salad I had the Austin bibb wedge salad with creamy feta dressing, strawberries and honey roasted pistachios. I was a little nervous, as wedge salads can sometimes be a little heavy and too creamy, but this was beyond excellent. First of all, it didn’t use the standard iceberg lettuce, which I think made a huge difference. Regrettably, I couldn’t tell you what kind of lettuce it was, but it was delicious. The dressing was tangy and delectable, but also light. The strawberries were a perfect juicy addition, and the crunch of the pistachios just sent the whole thing over the edge.

After such a great start, I was a little worried the entrée wouldn’t shine, especially since I made a risky choice (for me) in choosing the Elk, which I’ve never had. To be more specific, I had the Espresso-Chocolate-Chili rubbed Smoked Elk Backstrap topped with jumbo lump blue crab, and a lime chipotle beer blanc. I’ve enjoyed venison in the past, but I wasn’t sure what to expect with Elk. For the record, “backstrap” (also called saddle cuts) refers to the loins, or Rib Eye/New York cuts of meat. The backstrap can be found on the outside of the backbone with the Rib Eye to the front overlapping the chuck cuts and the New York towards the back. (Don’t you feel a trifle smarter now about Elk? I know I do.) Anyway, the Elk turned out to be very moist, delicate and velvety. It was served with corn bread pudding, mashed potatoes and julienned sautéed vegetables. The lime chipotle sauce had the perfect amount of spiciness, and really brightened up the whole dish. The lump crab I thought was a nice touch in theory – it actually could have been left off and the Elk would have shone just as well on its own.

If that sounds like a lot of food – it was. But it was all perfectly spaced out. We had plenty of time to just sit and watch the twilight descend, talk, and relax. We both agreed the pacing was perfect. We never felt overly rushed, and as a consequence we didn’t feel too stuffed for dessert: a Meyer lemon cheesecake with lavender honey from their own gardens. The cheesecake was light and fluffy, and the lavender honey complimented it perfectly, especially since they weren’t heavy-handed with the lavender.

So as you can tell, we had an amazing experience, and I highly recommend Hudson’s on the Bend to anyone heading out to Austin in search of an incredible meal.

P.S. – The first picture is of my meal, and the second is Kiki’s. She had the Pecan crusted snapper with a lemon buerre blanc sauce served with corn bread pudding.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Deep In the Heart (or food) of Texas

My friend Kiki and I had an amazing time in Austin, TX just hanging out, relaxing, and eating our way through the city. It was nice to take a short break from being a mom and engage in adult conversation, and to know that for a few brief days I selfishly didn't have to worry about anyone but myself. My husband deserves all the credit for that one, because he is such an amazing father. He made it easy for me.

Besides having amazing music and amazing food, I was really struck with how genuinely nice everyone in Austin is. Everywhere we went the people were friendly and accommodating (even in the airport!), and it was really nice to experience that. The first night there we ate at Stubb's BBQ where we had some great barbecue (pulled pork for me, brisket for Kiki), and I also had a huge blonde moment (or maybe Momnesia) when Kiki asked me if I ever bought their sauces in Richmond. My first reaction was, "Nope, never." And then I thought for a moment, and realized that yes, in fact, I use Stubb's sauces all the freaking time, and probably had a jar in my fridge at that very moment. I think what threw me was that the logo for Stubb's on their bottles is not the same at the restaurant (except on t-shirts, which I didn't see). Duh.

Austin is also a hot spot for food trucks, which I am just beginning to grasp are kind of a big deal in a lot of cities these days. We hunted down Fliphappy Crepes, which apparently won a throwdown with Bobby Flay. I can attest that they deserved the award. This truck occupied the whole parking lot, and put out brightly colored picnic tables with canvases strung overhead between the trees to block out the hot Texas sun. I had a savory crepe for lunch that had chicken, carmalized onions, cheddar cheese and mushrooms, and it was crepe heaven. Its edges were slightly crunchy for great texture, and it was also peppery without being overbearing, and rich without being heavy. I saw a woman waiting for her order with a bottle of wine she brought herself (hopefully not to drink all by herself), and thought what a perfect idea that was. We shared a kid's nutella crepe which was equally as yummy, and may have gone back at a later time for yet another dessert.

My next post will be about our most spectacular eating experience in Austin, but in the meantime, check out Kiki's pictures over at her blog I Still Hate Pickles, because mine are woefully inadequate.