Wednesday, December 8, 2010

B's Birthday Dinner at Artz Rib House...With My Vegetarian Family...

So there are very few times when B actually picks where we eat, and this was no exception.  It was his birthday, and I told him we were going to Artz Rib House, because, on his birthday, he should get to eat something he loves, rather than just tolerates.  Of course, he put up a fight because he - considerately - said, "Honey, there's nothing for you to eat there!"  Which isn't entirely true - they make veggie burgers and baked potatoes that I can eat - but I soon realized that my tolerance for a VERY limited selection (because I love B and wanted him to selfishly enjoy himself at least one night a year) miiiiiight not be entirely gravy with the rest of my family.  Especially since my little sister was in her strict vegan mode, rather than simply vegetarian like the rest of us.

I think that Art is undergoing some family/medical issues, because rumour has it that this place is hurting.  And it was.  When we arrived, there was hardly anyone there (as opposed to the last time we went, where it was packed and on a wait list).

I don't feel like there's a whole lot to say about this, so I won't bore you all with tales of my dissatisfaction, but I will note two things:  Art's mustard, which is why I go here, was "out" as he hadn't made any in a few weeks, and my husband said the ribs were dry.  I hope whatever he has going on gets sorted out and this place doesn't close down, but the food has got to get back to where it was if people are going to start coming back here...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Turkey Day 2010

I love Thanksgiving.  For me, it marks the beginning of the holiday season and the time to officially stop hanging on to summer (I live in Texas – it’s usually sweltering when we go out for Halloween) and change the air fresheners in the house from Breezy-Hawaiian-Something-or-Other to Cinnamon-Clove-Cosiness.  There’s nothing I love more than those ridiculously strong-scented cinnamon brooms that start popping up around Halloween.

This is also the time of year when people apparently start stressing out over making the traditional holiday spread, centred on a giant dead bird.  I’ve heard all sorts of horror stories from friends who forgot to turn the oven on and ended up with a raw bird or got stuck in traffic making a last minute run to the grocery store and ended up with a tough, dry, slightly burned bird.  While I don’t know anyone personally who has deep fried a turkey and burned their house down…it happens.

Obviously, since we’re living in Texas and it’s my side of the family that is American, we celebrated Veggie style.  Now, before any Beasts out there start lamenting my poor, undernourished B, he doesn’t even like turkey.  However, I wanted him to have something that reminded him of home, so I decided to make him some elements of a traditional Sunday Roast.  The end result (without any of the tons of vegetarian sides) was this:

Unfortunately for my little baby, Thor, he did not manage to get a hold of that cowboy steak, like he did B’s roast beef sandwiches the year before.  Also, I feel that this photo needs and awesome LOLz caption, so I will change the picture to one with the best caption left in the comments section below.

Anyway, every year each person picks what they want to be responsible for, so this year, I let the perennial failures like green bean casserole and steamed asparagus with hollandaise (which never actually made it to the table, as I dropped the platter on the floor, much to the Bean’s delight) go, and focused on some staples and crowd pleasers.  My contribution was:

Tangy Tangerine Cranberry Sauce (recipe below)
Roasted Tatties (recipe below)
Decadent Chocolate Mousse (Made in a blender!)
Pumpkin Cheesecake (recipe below)
Fresh Whipped Cream (recipe below)

The first dish is a spin on a Thanksgiving classic inspired by the abundance of tangerines in our backyard.  It honestly could not be simpler, and while I didn’t take the best picture, there’s nothing that elevates your Thanksgiving dinner like the absence of those telltale rings on canned cranberry sauce.

Tangy Tangerine Cranberry Sauce

1c water
1c sugar
12 oz package fresh whole cranberries
1T tangerine juice
sliced tangerine or tangerine wedges to garnish

Mix sugar and water and bring to a boil.
· · ·
Add cranberries and bring back up to a boil.
· · ·
Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring to make sure the cranberries don’t stick and the sugar doesn’t burn.
· · ·
Add tangerine juice (or any other citrus juice you prefer).
· · ·
Simmer for 2 more minutes.
· · ·
At this point, you have two choices – if you like whole berry sauce, pour the sauce straight from the pot into a bowl and let cool to room temperature. 
· · ·
Top with a twisted slice of tangerine and refrigerate until ready to serve.
· · ·
If you prefer jellied cranberry sauce, place a sieve over a bowl, and pour the cranberry sauce (about half a sieve-full at a time) in.  Here’s where you’re going to work off some of that pumpkin pie:
· · ·
With the back of a spoon, push the cranberry sauce through the sieve, scraping out the skins and adding more sauce until you’ve separated the whole pot. 
· · ·
In the centre of your serving bowl, make a little star-shaped pattern with tangerine wedges.
· · ·
Pour the cranberry sauce into the bowl and let cool to room temperature. 
· · ·
If you have the time, make this version early in the day (or even the night before) so you can refrigerate for as long as possible.  I think this jellied sauce looks prettiest when it’s solid enough to turn out onto a plate so you get that pretty star pattern and glossy jelly sheen.
· · ·
The number one thing to remember is that homemade cranberry sauce is very different from the canned stuff…it’s actually sauce that you will spoon onto your plate rather than cutting like a loaf of bread.  This is a good thing.

Roasted Tatties

These are a staple of any Sunday roast, and – made properly – little fluffy, crunchy bits of heaven.

2 lbs baby red potatoes
½ cup canola oil

Bring a pot of water to a boil (no salt, please!).
· · ·
Pour oil into a baking sheet or any pan with a lip and heat in oven at 400° F.
· · ·
Peel the potatoes and add to boiling water.
· · ·
This next bit is rather inexact, and will take practice:
You want to cook the potatoes so that the outer layer is a bit translucent, but the inside is still solid.
Basically, when you remove the potatoes from the water, you’re going to drain them and then shake the colander about to fluff up the outer layer.  Boil them too long, and when you shake them, they’ll turn to mashed potatoes.  Capice?
· · ·
Gently spoon fluffed up potatoes into the hot oil (get those mushed bits too – they’ll be wonderfully crisp) and spoon the hot oil over the potatoes, coating evenly.

Keep “basting” the potatoes every few minutes, gently turning them so that all sides get evenly brown.
· · ·
When they are golden brown, remove from the oven and transfer to a paper towel-lined platter.
· · ·
Sprinkle with salt, and smother with gravy, if you are so inclined.

Okay, I know I promised all of the dessert recipes as well, but I went out Black Friday shopping this morning, and am utterly exhausted.  I promise I will post the recipes later, but for now, I need a nap!  

Here are some pictures of what's to come...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Simple Savory Summer Tomato Pies - Mmmmmm!

I feel a bit like the snake from Robin Hood (the animated version) after saying that, but these pies really were simple, savory, summery and scrumptious!  

I'd been turning over the idea of a savory tomato pie in my head for days, and since I actually had a Saturday off (!!!), the Bean (my little sister) and I headed to the farmer's market to pick up some goods.  Before we even left the house, I was salivating at the thought of juicy fruits, fresh veggies, and artisan dairy products.  When we pulled in, I asked the Bean if it was around the back (it's held in the parking lot of a high school football stadium), and she said, "No.  It's over there," and pointed to a tiny corner of the parking lot.  My heart immediately sank:  I'm used to the sprawling Hollywood Farmer's Market or Jan Power's Farmer's Market (not far from the Brisbane city centre) or the Borough Market in London.  Those markets, if you are familiar with them, are absolutely incredible, and if you are in the Los Angeles, Brisbane or London area, GO!

I honestly expected a lot more from hippy dippy Austin.  The pathetic farmer's market (NO heirloom tomatoes or really tomatoes of any kind in the middle of summer) with about 15 stalls made me inquire as to how one becomes a vendor.  Certainly there were a few stalls where I felt, "Seriously?  I/mum/the Bean do that, but better!"  Imagine my surprise when the staff at the information booth told me they were "full".  I kid you not.  Why 15-20 vendors is the limit escapes me, since the variety is not particularly spectacular, and space is certainly not at a premium.  And, for the record, Texas French Breads and Sweetish Hill bakery should not be vendors here.  Besides the fact that is takes all of the artisan out of the farmer's market, I read the rules, and once a business grosses over a certain amount, they are - supposedly - meant to be phased out to make room for the smaller guys.  I'm pretty sure both of these businesses are making more than the whole of the independent stalls combined at their storefronts.  

However, grave disappointment aside (three full loops in under 20 minutes!) we did stumble upon some delectable goat's cheese that was locally made by Swede Farm.  It was just the right amount of tart where you can feel your glands pucker when you eat it, but it doesn't cause you to gag or tears to stream down your face.  I could have sat there and eaten the whole 8 ounces if I didn't know I would pay for it later.  While all of the flavours were lovely, the Texas Spicy was, by far, my favorite.  I'm a big fan, and even bigger consumer of fresh goat's cheese, and this one blew me away.  Soft and creamy with a kick that left you craving more.  Perfection.  If it didn't work out to $20 a pound, I would have bought much more.

After we got home, the Bean and I headed back out to our local grocery store (which is fairly hoity toity and does a lot more organic stuff than it's locations in other neighbourhoods) and picked up some heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and other ingredients to round out the basically nothing we got at the farmer's market.  Once we arrived home for the night, the Bean Ninja'd up a pina colada for me, margaritas for both of us, and mixed herself a Bloody Mary.  B made me a TVR (tequila, vodka, Redbull), but since vodka is still not my thing, the Bean ended up drinking that one.

We spent the evening concocting three different tomato pies (or tarts, whichever you'd like to call them):  Vegan for the Bean, topped with fresh mozzarella for B and mum, and topped with goat's cheese for me (no one else is willing to even give it a shot - their loss!).  I was surprised by just how well the Bean's vegan tart crust held together, and was actually quite glad for the variety, since I know there are plenty of different tastes and diets out there.  

After assembling our pies, things were looking quite promising!

The Bean's Vegan Tomato & Onion Pie

Tomato Pie with Fresh Mozzarella

Tomato & Spicy Goat's Cheese Pie

Next up was into the oven, and on to finishing our drinks!  The Bean decided to whip up a side salad made of - you guessed it - beans!  It was a deliciously creamy (but somehow vegan) combination of Great Northern beans, onions, parsley, grapeseed oil (you can use any kind, she actually only ended up using grapeseed because she thought it was a bottle of extra virgin olive oil!), white wine vinegar and Dijon mustard.  Honestly, her salad was sinfully delicious and a fantastic alternative to the traditional fatty potato salad that you have to worry about killing your picnic or BBQ guests if it's not properly chilled the whole time.  Play around with the ratios until you get the taste you want.  We prefer a strong vinegar/mustard taste, so are probably a bit heavier than you might be with those seasonings.

By the time that was done, the first of the pies was just about ready to come out of the oven.  The Bean's vegan pie was the first to go in, and therefore the first to come out.  While it looked delicious, we soon found out that the bottom wasn't fully cooked.  Just before the Bean was about to scoop out all the filling to bake the crust, we decided to brainstorm a bit before destroying the gorgeous pie:

  1. Her pie had been cooked in a cheap aluminum pan that I reasoned hadn't held the heat as well as our ceramic ones.
  2. While she advised me to poke fork holes in the bottom of mine, she'd forgotten to do so to hers.
  3. Her pie, to avoid being burned through the thinner aluminum, had been baked on the top shelf, and probably just needed some time on the bottom.

    The Bean's Vegan Tomato & Onion Pie Fresh Out of the Oven!

    As the other pies came out (and hers went back in), I noticed that the tomatoes had released a lot of liquid.  However, the crust, even with liquid pooling around it, still seemed crisp so I poured the excess juice off.  In retrospect, I really wish I'd poured the liquid into a jar rather than down the sink, as I have a sneaky feeling it would have been an incredible salad dressing.  

    Other pies hot out of the oven!

    Tomato & Fresh, Bubbly Mozzarella!

    An up-close shot of all the delicious layers of tomato-y goodness.
    Plus, the Bean's white bean salad.

    My goat's cheese and tomato pie - a lovely golden brown!

    Another up-close shot of layer upon layer of the taste of summer!

    Not a bad result for a spur of the moment dinner choice!  What do you think?  Is this something you'd make or does a pie of strictly tomatoes seem intimidating?  I made steak and Guinness pies for B as well, but that's a whole other post.  I think we're going to attack a range of jaffle style pies tomorrow, so I'll save pics of the steak and Guinness pies for that post!