Austin Food Adventures

Austin Food Adventures

My husband, Josh and I took a vacation to Austin, Texas at the end of March. In addition to hearing what a great town for music and art Austin is I was, as usual, most excited about the food possibilities! We had lots of good eats while we were down South, from the ever-talked-about food truck experience (we have a few in Ann Arbor now, too!), to tasty BBQ and some higher-end cuisine.

We had a few hit-and-miss experiences so I’ll highlight my favorites, in no particular order:

Gourdough’s

A raved about doughnut trailer just west of hip and artsy South Congress (SoCo) area. I read about this place when doing some pre-vacation foodie research and it was also recommended by boss’s Austin-local cousin.

The folks in this trailer make doughnuts with crazy, nostalgic, childhood-dream toppings. It’s basically a doughnut sundae topped with anything you can come up with, although they already have 23 pre-determined concoctions for the indecisive folks.

These confections are easily split between two people, and thankfully Josh and I chose wisely and did just that. We picked the Funky Money which is a freshly fried doughnut topped with grilled bananas, gobs of cream cheese icing and brown sugar. It was one of the best doughnuts I’ve ever had, but be warned that it’s extremely rich and not for the faint of heart!

Frank

Whether you’re a traditionalist or a sophisticated connoisseur when it comes to hot dogs and brats you’ll find an amazing selection of top-quality items to please at Frank in Austin.

We hit this place three times while we were in town for the week, it was that good! Plus, the atmosphere is cool and the staff are friendly. It felt like a neighborhood place for both townies and out-of-towners.

The first visit I had a brat on special that had a blackberry gastrique, goat cheese and crispy sage. I had them switch out the venison brat for their Jackalope which is a blend of antelope, rabbit and pork sausage. It was served on a fresh artisan bun and was amazing. The flavors really popped and the bright flavors of the berries, creaminess of the cheese and crisp herby bite of the sage made for great textural contrast and a rich taste.

My husband went the more traditional hot dog route and loved his too. We also split an order of their waffle fries with special house-bbq sauce on the side – delish! The only small disappointment that day was the chocolate chip and bacon cookie which turned out to be a mediocre cookie topped with crumbled bacon (rather than part of the cookie).

We went back the next day for a late lunch and I tried one of the regular menu choices, the Texilina. It’s a pork and beef brat with grilled coleslaw, mustard bbq sauce and white cheddar cheese. Another winner!  A nice middle-ground between traditionalist and a more adventurous palette.

Bonus points! We came back in the evening for to hear a local band play and actually saw Zooey Deschanel hanging out there! I was too busy admiring her adorable dress and shoes to notice who it was until Josh poked me! New Girl is one of our favorite TV shows.

Second Bar & Kitchen

We had dinner here the first night we were in town. Very friendly, but sophisticated vibe with knowledgeable staff. It’s attached to the posh The Austonian hotel.

I bet this place is packed on Friday and Saturday nights. I’m glad we came in on a Sunday when it was almost full, but we didn’t have to wait for a table. There were enough people in the restaurant to know we had found a good place, but quiet enough to be able to enjoy the experience.

I found a new favorite beverage here, Crispin Natural Hard Apple Cider. It wasn’t too sweet, but was crisp and refreshing. This reminds me that I need to find a local store that carries it!

For dinner I had the roasted chicken breast with grilled corn “panzanella” consisting of citrus jus and sourdough. The chicken was succulent and cooked perfectly. It was seasoned well and every element of the dish came together. This was one of the best meals we ate Austin.

Malanga Tapas & Bar

There’s a fabulous tapas place in Chicago that we love so we’re always hoping to find the next great small-plate restaurant on our visits out of town. Malanga’s was a pretty good find.

The prices here were more than our favorite in Chicago, Cafe Iberico which is surprising, but the food was still very tasty. We split lamb chops, an antipasto platter and dessert.

The lamb chops were fabulous! The baby chops came medium-rare and were marinated in aged balsamic vinegar, honey, and olive oil. The side of basil-mint pesto and balsamic reduction was my favorite part!

The meat and cheese were a selection of 15 month old Spanish Serrano Ham, Pamplona Chorizo, Garrotxa with rosemary, and 6 month old Manchego cheeses, also very good.

For dessert we had the Mantecadas. It came out with a beautiful presentation, but the dish itself was underwhelming in flavor. It was described as ‘pastries stuffed with cream cheese and lightly topped with fresh strawberries and a strawberry reduction’, but we didn’t find much in the way of pastry and the strawberries weren’t very sweet.

Overall, we ate well in Austin and really enjoyed the trip overall. If you’re looking for some details on non-food places to go I can share those too, just give me a shout!

Mud Hen Bars

Mud Hen Bars

I’d never had anything quite like a Mud Hen Bar before I made these after finding them on the Two Peas and Their Pod blog (which found the recipe on the Sunday Baker blog) . They’re a layered bar ‘cookie’, but have their own unique qualities compared to other varieties I’ve made or have eaten. Each of tier gives the dessert a mix of texture and flavor that I loved. The bottom layer is a lovely light yellow cake (Two Peas referred to it as a cookie base, but mine out very much like a cake). The middle layer consists of mini-marshmallows and chocolate chips to create a gooey center and the top is a brown sugar meringue which finishes the Mud Hen Bars with a nice crackle and almost caramel-like taste. There is some debate about where the name of these came from, but you’ll enjoy contemplating that while taking a bite of one of these!

Like Two Peas and Their Pod, I left out the nuts from the base layer. Find the recipe here.

 

Michigan Sweet Corn
and Red Raspberry Ice Cream

Michigan Sweet Corn <br /> and Red Raspberry Ice Cream

In June, I ordered the recipe book, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, from my favorite ice cream store based in Columbus, Ohio. The first recipe I tried was Salty Caramel, one of the top flavors I order when I’m in a Jeni’s store. The at-home version turned out very close to the original I love so much that I was excited to try more recipes from the book.

My second attempt was the Sweet Corn and Black Raspberry ice cream; a sweet corn ice cream base with black raspberry sauce swirled through. I’ve had this seasonal summer version in the Jeni’s shops before as well. It may sound odd to some, but trust me when I say that the sweet corn makes for great ice cream and you can really taste the milky sweetness of the corn.

I used fresh Michigan sweet corn, but was having trouble finding black raspberries so I opted to go with the traditional red raspberries. I knew that my version would lack the deep purple color, but the red raspberries would still give it a nice flavor.

The contrast of the slightly gooey, tart-sweet red raspberry sauce (it doesn’t fully freeze) with the creaminess and soft yellow color of the corn base is delicious. Even my husband, Josh, who rarely steers away from traditional flavors like chocolate, couldn’t get enough of this treat.

Michigan Sweet Corn
and Red Raspberry Ice Cream

Adapted from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home,

for the Red Raspberry Sauce:

  • 2 c. red raspberries
  • 1 c. sugar

for the Sweet Corn Ice Cream:

  • 1 ear Michigan sweet corn, husked
  • 2 c. whole milk
  • 1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 oz. reduced-fat cream cheese
  • 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
  • 1 1/4 c. heavy cream
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 2 tbsp. light corn syrup
  • Red Raspberry Sauce (see above)

Instructions:

Make the sauce:
Combine black raspberries and 1/2 cup sugar in a 1-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat, and cook, stirring, until thick, about 8 minutes; strain and chill.

Make the ice cream:

  1. Prep:
    In a bowl, stir together 2 tbsp. of milk and the cornstarch and set aside. Slice kernels off cob of corn then ‘milk’ the cob by scraping it with the back of your knife to push the liquid into the bowl; reserve kernels and juice. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Fill a large bowl with ice water.
  2. Cook:
    In a 4-qt saucepan combine the remaining milk, cream, sugar, corn and juices and corn syrup, bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil for 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and strain the mixture through a sieve into a bowl to remove the solids. Return the mixture to the saucepan and slowly whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Return to a boil over medium-high heat until slightly thickened, stirring with a heat-proof spatula, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
  3. Chill:
    Slowly whisk the hot mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon freezer bag, seal the bag and submerge in the ice water for 30 minutes or until mixture is cold, adding more ice as needed.
  4. Freeze:
    Pour the ice cream base into the frozen ice cream maker and freeze following manufacturer’s instructions. Alternate layers of raspberry sauce and ice cream into an air-tight storage container, beginning and ending with the sauce; don’t mix. Press a sheet of parchment paper against the ice cream surface and seal. Freeze at least 4 hours.

 

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Columbus, Ohio is famous for their creative gourmet flavors and use of high quality local ingredients. I am a huge fan of the selection and make a point of stopping there often while my husband and I are in town visiting family. I’ve even blogged about Jeni’s in the past. That’s why I was thrilled to see the release of their new cookbook, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, in mid-June. I pre-ordered a copy and received it a day before it’s ‘official’ in-store release.

Last weekend I attempted one of my top-five favorite Jeni’s flavors: Salty Caramel. I was a little intimidated because of a warning on the page about the technique used to create the caramel. I appreciate that they let me know that dry-heating the sugar (without any liquid) makes the process faster, but also more likely to burn the sugar so it requires a very close eye. Despite my reservations the recipe went smoothly thanks to the well written step-by-step instructions.

In general the Salty Caramel ice cream I made in my kitchen was very similar in taste to the shop version. It had rich buttery caramel overtones and subtle salty undertones that complement the sweetness perfectly. The only detail that I felt was missing from the book, were suggestions on the best types of storage containers. I used an air-tight plastic bowl with with fitted lid and I ran into a little bit of an icy texture on top after storing it in the freezer, even after letting it sit at room temperature for about 10-15 minutes before serving (as the book recommends). But, that has not stopped me from enjoying a dish of Salty Caramel goodness for the last several nights!

I was surprised that the book gave away so many of their signature recipes, but I’m also thrilled! I live three hours away from the closest Jeni’s so it’s not always easy to swing by for a scoop and the retailers in the area are a bit costly for a pint. Plus, the enjoyment of making it yourself cannot be replaced.

Dessert at Nico and Vali, Plymouth, MI

Dessert at Nico and Vali, Plymouth, MI

I can’t really tell you why it took my husband, Josh, and I so long to try dessert at one of our favorite restaurants, Nico and Vali. Maybe we were trying to save ourselves from eating even more delicious food at Nico and Vali in Plymouth, Michigan. We tend to make a trip there once a week already, for breakfast or lunch mostly. Well, regardless, we did finally succumb to the sweet endings recently, and I have to say we were not at all disappointed. Even served on adorable little flowered plates!

Josh opted for their Chocolate Tuxedo Cheesecake, with layers of various white and milk chocolate goodness which he devoured. I, being a non-traditional, non-chocolate fanatic female, decided on one of the lighter fruit based cakes, Boscaiola. Mmm… so good!

The buttery Boscaiola crust is imported directly from Italy and it topped with a light vanilla mousse layer, vanilla cake and a glazed deliciously tart mix of cranberries and currants. It’s not too heavy or rich, just the right balance to end one of the lovely Italian meals at Nico and Vali (I love their grilled zucchini sandwich for lunch!).

I suppose it’s a good thing that we go there most often for breakfast, which I admit would be a bit odd to end with dessert. But, if the need strikes us early in the day, we still have the option of taking a pre-cut slice from the deli case for later…

Oreo Cupcakes

Oreo Cupcakes

For those of you hanging on by a thread to your New Year’s weight loss resolution I apologize in advance for this post. When I found this recipe on Annie’s Eats for Cookies and Cream Cupcakes (adapted from the Beantown Baker) I should have known they’d be dangerous. But I felt compelled to make them anyway. Who can resist cupcakes or Oreos, let alone a combination of the two? Well, to my credit, I did cut the recipe in half to make one dozen instead of two. That counts for something in the diet world right?

These were everything I’d dreamed they would be… soft, dense, great Oreo flavor. Even the frosting tasted like the creamy cookie center. I held back a bit on the frosting too and used skim milk instead of cream. It makes a lot, but you can use as much as you like. You only need a sprinkling of crumbs to make them look pretty.

Okay, if you’re ready, here’s the recipe below. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Oreo Cupcakes

Adapted from Annie’s Eats who adapted the recipe from the Beantown Baker

For the cupcakes

  • 12 Oreo halves, with cream filling attached
  • 1-1/8 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 5/6 cup sugar (just measure 1/2 c. plus 1/3 c.)
  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 10 whole Oreo cookies, quartered

For the frosting

  • 4 oz. reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 tbsp. milk or cream

For the garnish

  • Oreo cookie crumbs
  • 12 Oreo cookie halves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place 12 paper cupcake liners in a standard muffin pan. Put an Oreo half in the bottom of each liner, cream side up.  In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Alternate adding the flour mixture and milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Fold in chopped Oreos until well incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cupcake liners.  Bake 18-20 minutes, rotating halfway through baking. The cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the tops spring back lightly when touched. Cool in the pans 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting:
Mix the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer medium speed until smooth. Add vanilla. Add the confectioners sugar and beat until smooth, about 1-2 minutes.  Add the milk and beat on low until incorporated, increase the speed to medium until the batter is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Frost the cupcakes when completely cooled.  Sprinkle with Oreo crumbs and garnish with Oreo halves. Store leftovers in the fridge.