Monthly Archives: April 2011

Plain and Simple Doesn’t Have to Mean Tasteless

Avenue B Grocery in Hyde Park (Austin, TX) has quite possibly the best turkey sandwich that has ever crossed Sarah’s lips. Last week she had a lunch date with Michelle Gonzalez – a colleague from Quality Seafood Market – and both ladies were strapped for cash and short on time. Luckily, this historic grocery/sandwich shop was in the neighborhood, and it happens to be the only place in Austin (that we know of) where you can get a huge sandwich, a Sarsaparilla soda, and some chips for just 10 bucks. But this isn’t just any sandwich…

The menu is based on a build-your-own, classic approach. Sarah ordered turkey on wheat with the usual suspects (lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo) and added avocado, provolone, and stone ground mustard. The bread, an essential component of a superb sandwich, was perfect: not too hearty, soft, but not so weak that the tomato made it soggy. What really knocked it out of the ballpark was the turkey. It had a texture like a home-cooked bird, sliced so thin that it fell apart when crumbled with your fingers. The taste was out of this world (i.e., OMG turkey goodness). If you’re in the neighborhood, this place is a must-stop for a quick, delicious, and fairly-priced sandwich. Sorry we don’t have any pictures of the interior of the store to share. Although it’s well worth a peak inside (you can buy everything from an antique butter dish to a sirloin steak) we didn’t want to pay the “$500 surcharge for photography.” Sandwich with a side of sarcasm? Yes please.

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Filed under Austin, Cheap Eats, Food, Friends, Review

The Hunter-Gatherer Feast

This past weekend we visited our friends Lynne Connellee and Noel Rodriguez in Buda (just 25 min. south of Austin). As soon as we entered their home, wafts of roasted garlic and caramelized onion reached our noses, and Noel, who had been peeling roasted eggplant, put down his knife to greet us. This was going to be good.

For appetizers, they served Eagle Mountain artisan raw milk Gruyere – aged one year – and pasteurized milk French Camembert. Noel had picked it up while he was at a cheese-making class in Granbury, TX. After we noshed on the cheese and some roasted eggplant bruschetta served on homemade five-grain bread, Noel and Lynne gave us a tour of their yard.

A beautiful pool was tucked behind the kitchen, neighbored by a garden filled with everything from artichokes to winter squash. Behind the garden was Noel’s woodworking shop – which he affectionately dubbed “the dog house.” Along the back fence and bordering the rest of the yard were many varieties of fruit-bearing plants: a mulberry tree, grape vines, a peach tree, a pear tree, cacti, and several plants whose names we don’t remember but whose flowers were meant to attract rare migratory species of moth and butterfly. Shading the back porch and house were pecan trees planted by Lynne’s son and a fig tree which had been in her family for generations.

After the tour, we sat down for what would turn out to be one of the best homemade meals of the year – even better…we didn’t have to cook it! Dandelions from the yard had been fermented into wine and then used as the base for a tangy ginger sauce for the venison loin (hunted by Noel, of course). Lynne had prepared warm Danish-style potatoes and a carrot and fennel slaw with fennel fronds, parsley, and sun-dried tomatoes.

Venison Fillet in a Dandelion Wine Reduction with Carrot & Fennel Slaw, Danish Potatoes, and Portabello Mushroom

For dessert? Cactus fruit sorbet cut with a bit of chile piquín, served with homemade lemon almond cookies. Clearly, Noel’s assertion that they like to incorporate the fruits of their garden in their food was a serious understatement.

Cactus Fruit (tuna) Sorbet with Lemon, Almond, Coffee Cookies

Which reminds us of another understatement, said by Lynne in reference to their home in Buda, “It’s not much, but it’s ours.” We respectfully disagree…it’s a lot more than “not much.” It’s a little oasis in a sea of homes where the only place families gather is around the TV screen and most of the meals that are considered homemade involve prepared ingredients. If we could all incorporate at least one meal like this one into our weekly routine, we’d be a long way towards improving the health of our bodies and our families.

Noel’s Recipes

Eggplant Bruschetta on Five-grain Bread

1 large eggplant
1 yellow onion, peeled
1 head garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon oregano
Sea salt to taste
Less than 1 handful of breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons of butter, divided
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
4 slices five-grain bread (preferably homemade)

Roast the eggplant, yellow onion, and garlic tossed with extra virgin olive oil, oregano, and sea salt in an oven at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes. When the eggplant is very tender, remove from oven. Allow vegetables to cool, then peel and chop them. Sauté with butter and breadcrumbs. Butter the bread, cut it into quarters, and then toast until golden brown. Top the bread with the eggplant mixture and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Broil for about 1 minute.

Venison Fillet in a Dandelion Wine Reduction

16 ounces dandelion wine (recipe follows)
1 small ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt

Combine dandelion wine, ginger, sugar, a generous amount of fresh ground pepper, and sea salt. Reduce mixture to about 6 oz. over medium low heat. Strain, and set liquid aside.

2 venison loins, about 8 ounces each
Freshly ground black pepper
4 sprigs fresh rosemary, minced

Coat the venison loins in a mixture of pepper and rosemary to form a nice crust. The loins should be at room temperature. Pan sear the loins in clarified butter or vegetable oil over high heat. Cut into medallions and serve on top of Dandelion Wine Reduction with a side of sautéed Portabello mushrooms.

Dandelion Wine

2 quarts of dandelion flowers
3 pounds granulated sugar
½ ounce yeast
1 slice of bread, toasted
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 orange, thinly sliced
1 gallon of boiling water

Pick flowers (heads only) and wash them. Combine, in a very large pot or bowl, the flowers, orange, and lemon. Pour the boiling water over this mixture, cover, and let stand for 10 days. Strain the mixture and add the sugar to the liquid. Mix well so that sugar is dissolved. Spread ½ ounce of yeast onto one piece of toast and float it in the mixture. Cover and let rest for another 3 days. Strain the liquid (remove the toast), and put the liquid into sterilized bottles. It is ready to drink now, but it will improve with age. (I prefer to age it at least 1 year).

Carrot and Fennel Slaw

3-5 carrots, washed and grated
1 fennel bulb, washed and chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Sea salt to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup sundried tomatoes, julienned
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
less than 1 handful of fennel fronds, roughly chopped

Whisk together vinegar, lemon juice, sea salt, and extra virgin olive oil. Toss carrots and fennel root in the dressing. Top the mixture with sun dried tomatoes, parsley, and fennel fronds. Chill and serve.

Danish Potato Salad

1 pound whole red potatoes
1 yellow onion, sliced
2 tablespoons butter
Sugar to taste
Apple cider vinegar to taste

Scrub potatoes and boil in a large pot of salted water until fork tender. Brown the onion over medium heat in the butter. Combine potatoes and onion. Toss with sugar and apple cider vinegar. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cactus Fruit Sorbet

2 cups cactus fruit juice (agua fresca de tuna)
1 cup simple syrup (boil 1 cup water, add 1 cup fine white sugar, remove from heat and chill)
Zest of 1 lime
1 shot of vodka
Pinch of chile piquín

Combine all ingredients in sorbet maker. Freeze until ready to serve. Garnish with fresh mint leaves and serve with Lynne’s Lemon Almond Cookies.

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Filed under Dinner, Food, Friends, Recipes

Meat Candy

Yesterday we hiked the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve – a natural preserve East of Hwy 360, South of Westlake Dr, and North of Bee Caves Rd. To put it mildly, the preserve was spectacular! The trails, though short, were well maintained, and the grounds were well mapped and marked. The overlooks provided gorgeous views of the surrounding Westlake area, with only minimal interruptions from neighboring McMansions.

There was even a “waterfall” and some very challenging uphill climbs. Sarah was reminded of the “Notch” hike in Western Massachusetts that she and her Amherst classmates used to climb on sunny days and starry nights. According to the Wild Basin website, the preserve was established thanks to the efforts of  seven “little old ladies in tennis shoes.” Thank you L.O.L.’s!

A man who's about to mess up some brisket

And how better to follow up a morning hike than with a gut-bomb BBQ lunch? Initially, we tried to eat at JR’s Texas-style BBQ on Rosewood and Chicon, but the sign listed “sold out” at noon. Either their BBQ was THAT good, or “sold out” was simply a euphemism for “We didn’t feel like working today.” So, we moseyed on down the road to Franklin BBQ at East 11th St. It must have been the hand of God that steered us in the right direction that day, because both of us agreed that Franklin BBQ was hands down the BEST barbecue we’ve ever tasted. And this is coming from a die hard brisket critic (Christian) and a not-so-big-of-a-fan-of-Texas-BBQ (Sarah). We split the brisket and sausage plates.

Meat. Candy.

Sausage = 8.1 out of 10 (not too salty, good texture, nice “pop” feel when we bit into it, good smokey, spicy flavor). Brisket = 10 out of 10 (MEAT. CANDY.). That’s right folks…you read that correctly, MEAT. CANDY. The best darn crust on a brisket we’ve ever tasted. No sauce necessary. Tender and super moist. Delish. As one customer standing in line behind us put it… “I’ve never seen white boys make barbecue like this before. What planet are y’all from?”

Another satisfied customer!

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Filed under Austin, Food, Hiking, Review

The ATX Bucket List

So it’s official…we’re moving to Richmond, VA in four months, which is NOT enough time to see all there is yet to be seen in our fair city of Austin, TX. We’ve come up with a short list of places we want to revisit – our all-time Austin favs so to speak. We hope you will help fill out the list with places that we may not have visited yet and that you think would be cardinal sin to leave ATX without experiencing. Thanks in advance for your comments!

Christian’s ATX Bucket List

  1. Eat at the Salt Lick BBQ
  2. Swim in Barton Springs Pool
  3. Take a guided tour of the Capitol building (this one we haven’t done yet)
  4. See a film at the IMAX

Sarah’s ATX Bucket List

  1. Swim in Blue Hole
  2. Eat a breakfast taco from a trailer
  3. See at least one more live show
  4. Have a beer at the Cactus Cafe


Filed under Austin

Tulip mania

On a recent trip to Dallas, we drove across town to the Arboretum, and boy was it worth the journey! While the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center’s mission is to preserve native Texas flora, the Dallas Arboretum seeks to promote the “art, enjoyment, and knowledge of horticulture.” Think of it as Disney World for gardeners. Typical of Texas, and especially Dallas, everything is bigger here. The arboretum grounds are so vast – a full 66 acres – that they take at least an hour to cover on foot. And that’s if you don’t plan on stopping and smelling the tulips on along the way. In addition to all the beautiful flowers, there were swarms of toddlers dressed in their Sunday best – their clothes’ hues matching perfectly with a number of the blooming buds. According to the Dallas Arboretum website, the gardens were voted one of the Top Places to Take Photographs by Southern Living Magazine in April 2010. Maybe parents had brought their kids out to do reconnaissance work before the big Easter egg hunt in two weeks. We’d hate to be among the groundskeepers who has to collect the Easter eggs that aren’t found by young Dallasites on April 24th.

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Filed under Dallas