Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bacon Apple Salad with Candied Walnuts

With the weather getting cooler, I often get excited about the slow cooker and other delicious comfort foods. With all that heaviness, it's refreshing to also celebrate fall with a crisp salad. I'd never candied walnuts before and was pleased not only how easy it was, but what a yummy difference it made in this salad. This one was simply satisfying!

Bacon Apple Salad with Candied Walnuts

1/2 cup walnuts

1 tablespoon butter, melted
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 slice bacon
1 shallot
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces salad greens
1 apple, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/4 cup cranberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread walnuts over a baking sheet and roast 5 to 6 minutes. Toss walnuts with melted butter until thoroughly coated, then toss with brown sugar.

Heat a skillet over medium heat and cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon from skillet, reserving drippings, and crumble. Add shallot to skillet and saute 2 minutes, then stir in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine salad greens, apple pieces and cranberries. Add walnuts, bacon and balsamic shallot dressing and toss to combine. Serve with crusty bread and enjoy.

Blackstar Co-op Review

I was very excited when I heard that Blackstar Co-op brewpub was actually open for business. When I first heard of Blackstar it was just a group of homebrewers and beer enthusiasts who wanted to share their love of beer with everyone. Since then they've actually built their own brewpub, and are preparing to brew their own beer for their official opening in mid to late October. For their soft opening until then they are serving a very nice selection of 20 craft brews from around the country, with a heavy emphasis on local breweries (Live Oak, (512), St. Arnold's).

I was sure the beer was going to be good, but I was curious about the food and service. Blackstar takes the English orderly queue style for ordering beer and food (think Draught House), but has a very modern open ambiance. The servers will not accept tips, and instead respond that they are paid a "fair and even wage". Personally I find this very refreshing... I'm not a big fan of the tip system, and I like not having to add 20% to my check at the end of the night. Despite this, the prices are very reasonable for both their food and beer.

Lindsay and I ordered Shrimp and Grits, Popcorn Tofu, and a Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Everything was amazing, especially the shrimp and grits. The grilled cheese came on some good sourdough bread, and with English chips (ie, fries) seasoned with plenty of garlic. Typically I'm willing to overlook some bar-food quality of good beer, but that's not necessary here. Needless to say, I'm sold.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Urban Restaurant Review

Hello AA Readers. This edition of Apron Adventures is made possible by the color Red, the number 10, and Luke. That's right, after being Lindsay's photographer for the last several months, I thought it would be nice to start actually writing some posts. Since Lindsay has the home front covered so well, my posts will mostly be restaurant reviews.

Last week Lindsay and I were invited to a tasting at Urban, the restaurant in the Westin Hotel in the Domain. They recently hired a new chef (Mizael Saucedo, formerly at Bess), and are in the process of creating a new menu. Our tasting menu had 10 items, including a dessert, but they weren't able to tell us which of those plates would make it on to the new menu.

First, the dishes that really stood out were the sweet corn bisque, which was thick and creamy, with a deliciously roasty yet tangy undertone, and the pork prime rib, which was just a perfectly cooked cut of pork, served with baked apples and a warm-tasting sauce. My menu says it was caramelized soy, but it tasted like some sort of squash.

A close second to my two favorites was the butternut squash risotto. It was cheesy and rich without being too heavy or too thick. Also worth getting was the steak salad and the bacon spinach salad. I tend to be a sucker for interesting steak or bacon salads, and both of these were good, but I'd pick the steak salad again just for the warm strips of steak with bright pink centers.

The rest of the dishes we were served were well prepared, but didn't quite stand out as memorable foods. The crab cake was breadier than I expected. The quail was quail, typical bone-picking complaints there. Keeping with the pork prime rib and the steak salad, the bar steak was excellently cooked (I like my steaks on the medium side of rare), but didn't have enough supporting flavors.

The one dish everyone at the table agreed was lackluster was the seared tuna, served with fingerling potatoes, and truffle vinaigrette. The entire dish was served somewhere between chilled and room temperature, which might have made sense for the tuna if it were a little colder, but really felt odd for the potatoes. The tuna itself tasted alright, but had almost no flavor.

For dessert we were served an avocado tres leches cake. Wow. I'm hard to please for desert because I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but this one was moist yet still fluffy, sweet yet not overpowering. I'd never had an avocado tres leches before. The avocado adds more to the texture than the flavor, and the result is a smooth creamy feel, and a slight green color.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Late Summer Vegetable Risotto

I finally made a trip out to the Barton Creek Farmers Market (open Saturdays 9 - 1), and loved all the delicious food! It reminded me a lot of the downtown Austin farmers market in terms of offerings, but the scene is different. Bonus is easy parking! Anyway, I pickedup some delicious tomatoes and wanted them to shine in a risotto since I haven't made one in ages. The tomatoes with the goat cheese offered that special something I was looking for.

Want to make this a vegetarian risotto? Forgo the bacon and use 2 tablespoons olive oil and replace chicken broth with your favorite vegetable stock!

Late Summer Vegetable Risotto

2 cups diced tomatoes (I used red and green tomatoes)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
2 ears corn, kernels removed
2 slices bacon, chopped
1 large shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine, at room temperature
5-6 cups chicken broth, warmed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 ounces goat cheese
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss tomatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and roast about 20 minutes. In the meantime, heat a large pot of water to boil, then cook green beans about 2 minutes to slightly cook yet keep some crunch. Heat a large skillet on medium heat and warm additional 1 tablespoon olive oil. Roast corn and green beans about 10 minutes, until cooked and slightly charred. Set vegetables aside, keeping warm.

Cook bacon in a dutch oven over medium low heat until crisp. Remove bacon, preserving drippings. Stir remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil into bacon drippings and warm, then stir shallots and garlic into drippings and saute one minute. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Add wine and cook another minute, stirring.

Start adding broth to rice mixture, 1/4 of a cup at a time, stirring constantly. As rice absorbs the broth, add additional liquid. This should take about 25-30 minutes. If the rice is absorbing the liquid too quickly, turn down the heat. After the 25-30 minutes, mixture should be creamy. Stir in goat cheese and mix to incorporate, then add parmesan. Stir in vegetables and crumbled bacon and serve, with additional parmesan on the table. Enjoy!

Chipotle Pork Tacos with Guacamole

Looking for heat that gives a one-two punch? Try a spicy marinaded pork that's then pair with sauteed Hatch chili peppers. There was a whole lotta flavor wrapped up in those little corn tortillas - it had us both going back for more!

Chipotle Pork Tacos with Guacamole

1 pound pork tenderloin

3 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon lime

1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 red onion, sliced

1 hatch chili, seeded and sliced

Canola oil (enough to go up 1/4 inch in a skillet)

8 corn tortillas

Sour cream

Cotija cheese

Place the pork in a large ziplock bag. Chop the chilies and place in bag with 1 tablespoon adobo sauce, garlic, lime, honey and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Rub marinade into pork with salt and pepper. Marinade 1-2 ho
urs in refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove pork from ziplock bag and place in an oven safe dish. Bake about 30 minutes, until pork is 150 degrees. Let pork rest about 5 minutes, then cut into thin slices or shred.

In the meantime, heat the remaining tablespoon olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Saute onions and hatch chilies on medium low heat for about 10 minutes, until soft and lightly charred. Set aside.

In a small skillet, warm canola oil until about 350 degrees, or when the bottom of a wooden spoon forms bubbles around it when placed inside. Cook tortillas in the oil one at a time for about 10-15 seconds per side. Drain on a paper towel.

Assemble tacos by spreading sour cream and guacamole on tortillas, then topping with shredded pork, peppers and onions and topping with cotija cheese. Enjoy!