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
1 TBSP milk
Vegetable oil, if frying
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.
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.
When I was a child, I believed being an adult meant that I would have a career, I could buy candy when ever I wanted, and I would be awesome. I had a picture in my head of having a lovely home, only seen in glances, as I always pictured myself running out the door to work, but looking pretty professionally cool as I did so. That’s how I viewed my parents as a kid: loving, but always on their way to work. And they did it because they wanted to give my brother and I as good a life as they could; I just didn’t realize how hard it was for them. In my mind, you grew up, you had a job you liked, you then earned enough money from working so much that you had a nice home, and I would be physically fit because I had been forced to be on a diet since as far back as I can remember.
But that’s not what this whole “Adult” thing is about. I have to make decisions and live with those decisions, which is suddenly a very heavy thing to do. The odds of the average person being in a career that they love is slim to non-existent. Buying a house is filled with as many smiles as heartbreak. And you can’t eat candy all the time, because you hit twenty-four years of age and your body goes to shit – even more so than it was before. So, as an adult, I spend most of my time figuring out how to become an educational coordinator from the professional choices I’ve made, fixing my house or throwing money at past repairs we’ve made, working out, paying bills, and cuddling my loved ones when I get a second here or there. This all accumulates to cause me to over think my life. Daily.
I have a real draw toward beauty in natural surroundings. I can be alone for months if I look out and see beauty that makes my heart swell. But I’m adult now. So, I can’t just pick up and leave to admire another part of the country, getting a job where ever I land, because I need to be on a career path. And I’m an adult now, so suddenly where I choose to live means that the schools have to be decent, because I want to have a child one day, and I want that child to have a fighting chance. And I’m an adult now, which means I’m fortunate enough to share my life with another adult who supports me. And in turn, I support him, which means that out of respect for him, I have to be sure he is onboard for my insanity. And all of this comes down to accepting that I can’t leave Austin.
I struggle with living in Austin. Sure, it’s cool. And from certain parts of town, it’s even pretty. Find a list of Best Places to Live and somewhere amongst Portland, Seattle, and AnyWhere, North Carolina will be my little city upon the river they call a lake. Be young here, start a company here, retire here (try telling that to my folks). But, in a way, it’s also like living on an island in a sea of crazy. If you can focus on just your island, let yourself go, you’ll have fun, it’s chill, just flow with it. But remember that scene in Labyrinth, when Sarah is being wooed at the dance? Then Agnes is in her bedroom, giving her toys, and lipstick. But slowly Sarah comes to, remembers what’s important, and it’s just not fun any more, and she has to claw her way out. It’s a scene that makes me nauseous every time I see it. But, then, I’ve never been very good at the whole “relax” thing.
When I lived in Arizona, I was awed by the beauty outside my door every day, and when I wanted a change of scenery I drove an hour up north to Flagstaff, or an hour south to Phoenix. The politics and the schools there weren’t great there either, so I have to learn to let that go. But I loved the earth there. I loved the smell, the wind, the change in temperate zones, like it’s an area where the world is smiling. So why not just move there? Well, because I’m adult now and right when you have all the freedom in the world is right about when making changes seems impossible.
I moved here and got a job. Then I bought a home. Then I made a couple of friends. Then I made a few more. And these aren’t just “buddies”. These are people that I’m still surprised to have only known for a few years, because I could’ve sworn they were family. We support each other emotionally. We share and learn and play together. Sometimes we have Sunday dinner together the way we did as children with our blood relations. We give honest advice to each other, spend holidays within the warmth of each others’ homes, and, as many of us are far from our families, we have created the support of a clan within each other. It’s not a replacement, but it’s very tangible, and not something I ever expected at this time in my life. There are a number of things we still have to figure out in our lives, the two biggest ones being should we have a child (where? When?! HOW?!) and what the fuck are we doing with our lives? But one thing is for certain, it doesn’t look like we can leave Austin.
So, in that vein, I’m going to start really chronicling our Austin escapades, I’m going to remind myself as often as possible why exactly I live here, and learn, as best I can, to chill the fuck out and live in the present rather than the unforeseen future. If any of you have figured out how to do this please don’t hesitate to tell me how. I will continue with recipes and I will pick back up the pace on the Pop Bytes. I’ll nerd out more often on here. And we’ll make the best of what we’ve got.
Because that’s all you can do as an adult and these are the decisions we can live with.
On Sundays I always look to something special for dinner, which comes from my upbringing. Huge family dinners filled with love and hours of cooking and food – food – So Much Food! Now, my numerous cousins are scattered amongst different states, different countries. I’m not sure what many of them do for their Sunday dinners now, but I know that we do still all love food, sharing, nurturing. Which brings me to what I call The Absentee Dinner. I make something simple, but a little more involved than the other days of the week, something with protein, something that’s going to be delicious and worth savoring. I make something special. I do it in honor of my family, my upbringing, and I invite dear friends over whenever possible, just so we can eat in each others’ company. And maybe watch a little Doctor Who.
With the reminiscence complete, let me say that while I like the depth and complexity of Asian flavors – sweet yet sour, spicy yet cool and crisp, you don’t have to follow this style. A great alternative to this, perfect for Game Day at your house is RECIPE RECOMMENDATION MISSING. Hmmm. I’ll tell you what: if you want that full recipe from me you’re going to have to wait until next week.
Crispy Pork Tacos, Asian Style
1-1.5 pounds Boneless Pork Loin Center Chops
2 TBSP minced garlic, divided
1 TBSP low sodium soy sauce
1/2 TBSP Hoisin sauce
1/2 tsp chile oil
2 tsp Sriracha
1 tsp black pepper (or red pepper flakes if you like it spicy)
Juice of one lemon
1 TBSP white vinegar
1 TBSP brown sugar
2 tsp freshly grated ginger or 1 tsp ginger powder
1 Napa cabbage, leaves cleaned. Cut about 2 inches off the bottom of each leaf.
1/2 corn starch (if making “extra crispy”, see below)
2 TBSP olive or vegetable oil
Pre-shredded Broccoli slaw
1 cup bean sprouts
1/4 red wine vinegar
2 tsp salt
1. 5 tsp black pepper
3 tsp sugar
About an hour or two prior to cooking, marinate the pork. Slice the pork in large bite sized pieces, I like strips, and set aside. In a bowl, whisk together half of the garlic, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chile oil sriracha, pepper, lemon juice, water, vinegar, brown sugar, and ginger. Add the pork to the bowl and tossed making sure each piece is coated. Let marinate for 1-2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes.
While marinating, make the crispy slaw topping. You can swap the slaw for kimchi. Toss the pre-shredded slaw mix, bean sprouts, salt, pepper, and sugar in a bowl, and set aside. This can sit some time and the flavors will just continue to marry while staying bright. Toss periodically in the time prior to serving.
Once the pork is marinated you have the option of sauteing or pan frying. On this night Chip and I made our Crispy Pork Tacos extra crispy, but you certainly simply dump the entire marinade mixture into a sauce pan heated with with the oil over medium high heat, cooking about 7-9 minutes. For extra crispy, however, remove the pork from the marinade and toss in the corn starch until evenly, but lightly coated. Discard the marinade, and heat the oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Pan fry the pork about 3-4 minutes per side or until golden brown. Remove from pan to a paper toweled plate to drain for a minute or two.
Taking one of the napa cabbage leaves, we set to work assembling our “Tacos”. We topped our pork with a sprinkling of slaw, a bit of the remaining minced garlic, a little chopped cilantro, sesame seeds and even some fresh diced mango. Serving with a wedge of lime, this would be perfect with a side of tropical quinoa or rice. Of course, we ate ours with squash, though, because I’m trying to will it to be Autumn here in Austin.
I love Autumn. There’s not much Fall to be had in Austin, but each and every year I try to will this season to occur. The leaves don’t chain color, unless you count the grass dying, the weather barely cools, but I still make my house smell like synthetic pumpkin, I wear layers in earth tones, and I make squash. Lots and lots of squash.
In an attempt to make squash more than a side dish, I decided to make a Spaghetti Squash Alfredo. Creamy without being heavy, filling without being packed with carbs. To lighten the sauce, I skipped the usual heavy cream, cut back on the butter, and made a roux instead.
Spaghetti Squash Alfredo
1 Spaghetti Squash
3 TBSP butter
4 TBSP all purpose flour
1/4 cup chicken stock (or dry white wine)
1/2 cup milk (I used 1%, but any will do)
2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
Juice of 1 half lemon
1/2 TBSP dried parsley flakes or 1 TBSP freshly chopped parsley
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds. In a 4 sided cookie pan or large pyrex fill with enough water to fill about 1/4-1/2 inch up the sides. Place the squash (which at this point will look nothing like spaghetti) face down into the water. Roast the spaghetti squash for 35-45 minutes or until tender. I like my pasta al dente, so I took the squash out at 35 minutes.
The sauce comes together quickly, so make this no more than 10 minutes before the squash needs to come out. Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Once melted, whisk in the flour until you make a paste of even consistency. Add the milk and chicken stock or wine, whisking to incorporate. Add the garlic and let simmer for about 3 minutes, whisking periodically. Sprinkle in the parm and the garlic powder, whisking to combine. If the alfredo sauce seems to thick, add chicken stock or white wine a TBSP at a time. As it sits and simmers it will thicken, so be sure to whisk periodically. It is best, however, to make the sauce a little thick because the squash does contain a lot of liquid naturally and that will moisten the sauce once tossed together. Just before serving, whisk in the lemon juice for brightness. You can also sprinkle the lemon juice directly over the squash prior to topping with sauce if preferred.
Getting back to the squash, once done roasting, remove from cookie sheet or pyrex and let cool about 5 minutes. Wrapping the back of the squash in a tea towel (the side with the skin on it) lightly separate the innards of the squash with a fork. I stuck the tines of the fork into the squash meat and gentle twisted, revealing the meat to be spaghetti-like.
Once the squash meat is cleaned out of the skin, place your “spaghetti” into a paper towel lined colander in the sink. The one draw back to this dish is that the squash contains a lot of moisture and you want to try to remove some of that prior to serving, just so the meal doesn’t get watery. Once the sauce is done or the squash has drained a bit in the colander for 5 or so minutes, which ever comes first, place the spaghetti squash into a large bowl and toss with the sauce, reserving about 1/4 of alfredo for topping if desired. Plate topping each serving with a little extra sauce and a small sprinkling of parsley. I also topped mine with a shredded slice of prosciutto, but sautéed chicken or shrimp would also be perfect as well to add a healthy and light punch of protein. I really couldn’t detect much of a difference in flavor between the squash and regular spaghetti at all. It was a wonderfully flavorful Autumn dinner, without weighing us down, whether or not Fall was actually happening outside.