Month: November 2012

Autumn Frying By: Back Yard Gastro Graze

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What, oh what, does one do with a turkey fryer once Thanksgiving is past $60 worth of oil?

Well, if you’re part of my group of friends, you set out to discover what can and can’t be fried.

The Frying Rig.

For safety’s sake, my friends took a direct page from Alton Brown’s book and setup their fryer outside, away from the house, spending about $5 to have the fry basket on a pulley, and wrapping the hose in tinfoil so that in the event of a spill, the hot oil won’t melt through the propane hose.

The weather was cool, the colors bright, every one felt good in the throws of Austin Autumn.

While some planning had to go into what we fried (wet batter that could drip and therefore be more likely to cause burnt bits that would blacken the oil), we started ambitiously with hot wings followed by Brussel sprouts, both fried at 350F degrees. The hot wings were tossed in regular buffalo sauce and Texas Pete Sweet & Fiery, a new favorite of mine. The Brussel sprouts took less than 3 minutes and were amazing both simply salted and sprinkled with Uchiko’s recipe.

Following our bounty of protein and veggie tables, we moved to a pallet cleansing batch of fried baguette crust, cut into strips, dipped into Nutella and served with banana slices. This was particularly satisfying.

Not everything was a success, however. We did attempt a batch of fried cheese curds, that came out more like puffs of hollow crispy shells. They also coated the basket in goo, and we had to break from frying to scrub everything and make sure the oil wasn’t going to burn do to particles.

I had mixed up a batch of green chile biscuit dough, rolled into balls, and stuffed each ball with a small cube of cheese and two drops of chile oil. These were tasty, but needed more seasoning than I mixed into the dough. A good start on something, though, and they were even better the next day, making me think they may need to be a breakfast treat!

Up next were the corn dogs and, while I only got one bite, they were easily my favorite of the afternoon. And it goes without saying that they disappeared the fastest, loved by adults, kids, and X-1.

X knows where the good stuff is…

But the day wasn’t just about getting together to eat unnecessary calories. We learned, we taught each other, we enjoyed the sunshine. The was quality time…

“Quality” time of the future.

We taught Nicco how to use the horn on her Batmobile and how to make deep “Tooooooot” train sounds with an empty bottle. We chatted and allowed the kids to exhaust us, using the adults and trees as jungle gyms.

And what would an afternoon be without dessert, a dessert that appreciates Autumn’s bounty of apples, of course?! The amazing Tania whipped up two different kinds of fried apple pie, one in pie crust, and one in a simple biscuit dough, as recommended by Paula Deen. We were somewhat surprised to find that Deen’s dough was far lighter and more substantial (and far less greasy) than the simple pie dough! Both were dipped in a fantastic caramel sauce from Austin’s own Foreign & Domestic.

It was an afternoon of ease, experimentation, humor, good company, beautiful weather, and joy. It was a second Thanksgiving Day, it was perfect for a Sunday in Autumn. One final note: we did eventually get the cheese curds to come out better…though not all together perfect. When Sarah wanted to get a few more, her husband, not standing too far from the curds said “Well, kick the dog, drop the baby, and get over here!” rather than leave the table himself, because they were disappearing all too fast. (Yes, of course he was kidding! But it’s a funny picture non-the-less.)

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The Value of a Dollar

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I chat throughout my day with friends online. We live in a world of almost constant communication and business never rests, so the opportunity for a lunch or break of any kind comes few and far between. Or not at all. The periodic chat with a friend helps break up the day without having to take more than a minute or two away from email. Helps morale. And some times, a good memory comes up.
______________________________
Patrick:  so tell me something
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me:  Are you following that up with a question that you want an answer to, or are you asking me to tell you a story, joke, etc?
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Patrick:  story
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me:  Hmm….okay….
So, I’ve had glasses for more than half my life. The first time my folks allowed me to get a more expensive pair, one that I could pick out myself, however, was when I was about 15.
I was so excited and had waited for them to come in for, like, 2 weeks, which to a 15 year old girl is an ETERNITY.
I picked them up on a Saturday and almost immediately headed over to Joanna’s wearing them, much to the shargrin of my folks.
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Joanna and I were going to camp in her back yard, in the sand of her volley ball court, which was surrounded by dense forest.
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Patrick:  ok
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me:  Our friend Jeremy lived next door, so he was having Tommy and Brendon over, and they were going to sneak out and camp with us – no hanky panky on my part, I was just good buds with those boys.
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We go out, play all night, wrestle, talk, split a beer so we’re all “drunk”, play music, whatever. Kids crap.
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I wake up in the morning and …
                                                           …where are my glasses?
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Where are they?
WHERE ARE THEY?!
                                                                                                                           Fuck, they’re not here.
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Oh, my god, my folks are going to kill me.
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HOLY CRAP!!!!!
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                                                       ….but what are you going to do?
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After a couple of hours of crying and panicking I had resolved myself to simply tell my parents that the glasses were lost and they’d just have to buy me a new pair and move on with what ever punishment.
How bad could it be? A grounding for a week? Two? Not bad, survivable certainly.
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But my folks had other ideas.
Yes, this is really my mother. I took this picture while she was yelling at me as a young adult…
…and had it put on a mug for her that same year for Christmas. She did not like it.
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So enraged were they about the lost glasses, that they refused to buy me a new pair, as they should have.
I was told I would not be getting a new pair, which would put my future in jeopardy because I would not be able to drive without them, heaven’s to betsy!
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I couldn’t not learn to drive in the next year!
{Appropriate Teenage Freakout ensues}
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So, I headed back to Joanna’s and searched.
                                           And searched.
                                                                 And searched.
                                                                               Until it was night again.
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Defeated, I crawled back home, face puffy and red from crying all day.
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My folks, still angry, took a small bit of pity on me, and the next day my father took me to Home Depot.
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…To rent a metal detector.
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And sent me back over to Joanna’s to resume the search.
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It took about another hour, but lo-and-behold, I found the with the damn metal doohickey. Not even a scratch on the lenses or anything. I had never been so relieved.
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 Guess what I gave my Dad for Christmas?
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Patrick: a metal detector?
me: Was there any question?

Crispy Artichoke Hearts with Lemon Zest Aioli

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In a month’s time I’ll be spending a week with my family. Folks, sibling, husband, cousins, etc. As we actually like each other, most of us are looking forward to this time together. It’s an anomaly, I know. I’ve been coming up with numerous recipes for us to share while visiting, and I’ve been searching far and wide for inspiration.

One of the many recipes I wanted to attempt to recreate was fried artichoke hearts. When I was in college…hmmm. You know, I was going to write “When I was in college I spent some time in Arizona…”, but now that I’m long graduated I can honestly state it more clearly: While I lived in Arizona for a few years I went to college. Like one goes to the gym when they’re not really into it. Like it was a hobby or something I told people I did to keep them off my back. Anyway, the point is that while I lived in Arizona, working odd jobs instead of attending class regularly, one of the ways I would treat myself from time to time on the great road of finding my way, was a night out at the Prescott Brewing Company. One of my faves on their menu are these little crispy artichoke hearts. I decided to make may own version, packing each bite with a little more flavor, attempting to bake them instead, and serving them a bright and lemony aioli rather than ranch dressing.

Crispy Artichoke Hearts

2 cans Large artichoke hearts (5-7), halved

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup Panko

zest of one lemon

1 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp dried parsley

1 heaping TBSP grated Parmesan cheese

2 eggs

1 TBSP milk

Vegetable oil, if frying

Dipping Aioli

1 1/2 TBSP mayonnaise

1 1/2 TBSP sour cream

1/2 tsp dill

1 tsp dried parsley

1 tsp black pepper

juice of 1/2 lemon

Just a side note here: I’ve used both the whole and quartered artichoke hearts. I’ve found halving the whole artichoke heart makes for a much more toothsome bite than the pre-quartered options. They’re smaller, thinner, and all around less appetizing.

Drain the cans of artichoke hearts. Gently halve the hearts and lay out on a paper towel for about an hour to dry out a bit. Whisk together the eggs and milk. In a separate plate (I use an 8×8 pyrex) combine the flour, panko, lemon zest, garlic powder parsley, and Parmesan.

Start heating up your vegetable oil to 325 degrees.

Delicately spear an artichoke halve with a fork. I found it best to poke from the side out, which helps the petals remaining on the choke stay together. Dip your speared piece into the egg/milk mixture quickly, allowing the excess to drip off a second before coating in the panko mixture. I found it easiest to drop the artichoke heart piece off of the fork into the center of the panko and flour, and then tossing the dry ingredients over the heart. You want the artichoke chunks to be evenly coated, but you don’t want that coating to be very thick. Once coated, set aside until you have an full batch to start frying.

Once your oil reaches temperature, fry the artichoke hearts halves for 2-3 minutes per side or until golden brown. They do brown very quickly. Once golden and crisp move to a paper-towel covered cooling rack and sprinkle lightly with salt. Let rest about 5 minutes.
For the dipping aioli, whisk all the ingredients together and serve with the artichokes. This creamy dip is extremely addicting. You may want to double the dip recipe if you’re serving these at a dinner party.  I served mine as an appetizer to a vegetarian dinner and the crispy artichokes, with the bright creamy sauce went beautifully with both our chilled white wine (I think it was a Pinot Grigio) and a crisp hard cider.

Austin Gastro Graze 6: Stiles Switch

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So, I haven’t written a Gastro Graze in a while. We have been trying to cut back on eating out, but the amount of new eateries popping up in Austin hasn’t slowed. Yesterday Chip and I decided to try Stiles Switch, a new local barbecue joint on North Lamar.

Stiles Switch has a nice location with an industrial feel and, best yet, lots of parking. That being said, it was 1:30pm on Saturday…and the place was almost empty. The interior of the restaurant was very clean and well kept, and it has a more established feel than the 10 months it’s been open. The gentlemen behind the counter were very nice, as well. For our lunch, Chip and I decided on BBQ staples: 6 pork ribs, 1/2 pound of brisket, and cole slaw. There wasn’t an option for moist (fatty) or lean on the brisket, and we didn’t notice that they also served sausages until after we’d paid for lunch, so I would go back to try their jalapeño cheddar offering. I generally stay away from chicken at BBQ places, which Stiles does serve, only because of its tendency to be dry. We also got a root beer and an orange soda. The total came to $31, which means they’re a bit pricier than Black’s or Smitty’s out in Lockhart, but that’s the price of not having to drive an hour out of town.

Ribs are a staple when gorging myself on smoked meats. A rub can make or break them; I find Cooper’s to be too black peppery though Chip disagrees. Stiles had a decent rub on their ribs, however, that was a good balance of smokey, sweet, salty, with the flavor of pepper coming through without being over-powering. Our lunch order came with a cup of the Stiles sauce which was…interesting. I’m not a big fan of BBQ sauces, but they seemed to be attempting a new spin. Rather than use a base of ketchup in their sauce, it tasted heavily of canned tomato soup. It was odd to say the least, though not all together bad, but most of it remained when Chip and I finished eating.

Stiles Switch sells two kinds of cole slaw and we got a small serving of each. I’m generally not a fan of mayonnaise based cole slaws, but theirs was tasty and not heavy. Chip felt it seemed to be a very basic slaw, however, and nothing special. The other slaw they served was a lemon vinaigrette variety, which was  flavorful and bright, and a nice change of pace from the usual offering. Stiles also offered potato salad and macaroni & cheese, neither of which Chip or I tried.

Now to the brisket. I am picky about my brisket. It should be moist – but not too moist. Unfortunately, the brisket we had at Stiles was closer to beef jerky than to juicy, tender brisket found at Iron Works or Franklin’s. As you can see on the left side of the picture, this brisket is dry. It was also cut very thick, which only served to make its texture all the more unappetizing. Between the two of us, Chip and I only finished one piece of our 1/2 pound of brisket. The bark was tasty, but was ultimately too tough to enjoy.

Would I return to Stiles Switch? Yes, because I would like to try the sausage, and maybe even give the brisket a second chance, but it won’t be any time soon. Would I recommend it? Probably not. My issue that barbecue is not cheap, and there’s so much competition near and far in this area, that a restaurant really can’t afford to make less than great.

Like Dinos for Ponies

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A few weeks back I made this big stink about writing more frequently and yet since that time I have wound up writing less than ever.

I haven’t cooked anything new.

I’m still in the office a million hours a week.

And now I’ve taken on a second job, albeit a small one at one night a week, as a Quiz Master.

So, I’m writing today, dammit.

I’m trying to find meaning and balance in my life. I say “meaning”, maybe that’s a bit harsh. I am an adult now, which is easy to claim on the basis of age, but much harder to grasp in terms of…everything else. I have no children because they are expensive. Also, they smell, but I could probably get over that. I do not feel settled in my career because when you’re a child there is only the want to be. To be an astronaut, a veterinarian, a doctor, a teacher, a lion wrangler, something definitive, something viewed as great, and you’re blissfully unaware in youth of the lesser positions, such office administration, personal assisting, the horrible world that is retail, etc. You think everything is fair, that you work 8:30am to 5pm, at which point you’re allowed to have a life and holidays off. And for working those hours you earn enough cash to afford said life, a vacation once a year, medical bills, the surprise of a car breaking down. The world has changed, however. And I am cranky for it.

Where am I going with this? I don’t know. Maybe the world hasn’t changed.

Adulthood – Something I’ve sparred with more than once on here. It’s hard to view one’s self as a true adult as I base my idea of an adult on my parents, who I viewed most while a child in the 1980’s. Also, at its core my life is one of learning, of being excited for art, history, the beauty, destruction, and evolution of our past. This blurs the lines of being an adult personally because one is supposed to let go of the loves you have as a child as you grow into maturity. As a child I loved learning, I loved museums. And I will not let go of those.

Speaking of cores, we all have an inner voice within us. If we didn’t we wouldn’t be able to read silently. Boom. Inner voice. As we grow, mature, and learn this inner voices matures with us, is us, defines our rationals and decision making processes. Every once in a while, however, my inner voice isn’t me.

That sounds bizarre and creepy. Scratch that.

What I mean to say is that every once in a while my inner child speaks for my inner voice.

This morning I read an article about a new “Alien Horned” dinosaur discovered in Canada recently. It’s called an “Alien” based on it’s scientific name (Xenoceratops), Xeno of course being latin for Alien. Yeah, no, stop thinking Scientology. I mean, their use of Xenu isn’t exactly wrong, but it’s also not real. Dinosaurs were real (unless of course that offends you, but if it does then you probably wouldn’t be reading my blog).

The point is the new dino didn’t look all that different. He’s instantly recognizable as a close relation to the Triceratops.

Ole’ Xeno himself. (Photo Credit Yahoo News)

So, I see the headline of a new dinosaur discovery and I can’t click fast enough out of childlike wonder and excitement, only for my eyes to rest on a rather familiar-though-slightly-different face. And my inner child’s inner voice takes over and says to me:

“That’s not new. That’s the dinosaur I’d ride like a horse if I lived back then.”

And that’s my first thought on this matter. Not “My, a new relation of a classic. How interesting!”, not “A new discovery! How delightful!”, not “Oh, joy, something new! The World as we know it is astounding!” Nope.

My first thought is that this is boring, because I would ride a triceratops and all of his or her kin like wild ponies of the Cretaceous Period.

WHY is that my first thought looking at poor Xeno Horn over here? First of all, no I wouldn’t have. In the improbable event of finding myself stuck back a few dozens of millions of years ago in the Earth’s beginnings, I would not be saddling up great monsters. Trampled to death? Maybe. Stung by a giant, horrifying insect of yore and left for dead? Most likely. Tour around on a Xenoceratops? Absolutely not. Not only did my inner child hop a ride on a Jules Verne or H.G. Wells premise, but I also came up with the girliest, most childish thought:

Big beast. I ride. He my friend. I call him “Friendy”.

I say “girliest” because though I spent much of my youth working on farms just so I could ride horses, I would have much rather had a dinosaur or pterosaur as a trusty stead; ponies were just practice. This was me at my girliest.

I love history, I respect history, I learn from history. Apparently, however, I will not grow out of my periodic inner child no matter how immature she may forever be.

I don’t think I mind this, though. It’s that childishness that keeps me enthusiastic over the interesting things I love, and I find that joy to be easily contagious to those around me. Maybe it will even make me a good parent, if ever I decide to embark on that experience. I know it certainly made my father a good dad, albeit a pretty corny one.