Austin

Austin. A wonderful city with plenty to do and so many delicious tacos, sauces and other things to eat.

Let’s start with a breakfast taco. Nothing crazy. Just eggs, migas, cheese, and avocado on a tortilla.

Loved the sugar skulls on the tables at Taco Deli.

We did a lot of exploring on this trip. The Whole Foods mothership was impressive and fun to explore with its spices and herbs you can buy in bulk. Toy Joy was a fun, bright novelty store to shop through. We visited The Brew Exchange, a new bar that sells you beer like it’s a stock exchange. We sipped local beers (512, yum!) on the patios of bars on Rainey Street and explored the thrift shops and boutiques on South Congress Avenue.

One day we headed south about 25 miles to Driftwood for lunch at The Salt Lick B.B.Q. Everyone said to try the lemonade while you wait. But we didn’t know until we arrived that they only serve the lemonade on the weekends. Next time! At least going on a Friday afternoon meant no waiting.

Ordering was easy and our food was served quickly. Kay and I both ordered the combo platter with three meats.

Here’s my plate of brisket, sausage, a pork rib, beans, potato salad and coleslaw. My fave was the rib. Or maybe the sausage. The potato salad was really good, too. It wasn’t packed with mayo and neither was the slaw. Cool. It was a good thing we went hiking that morning and worked up an appetite!

Tacos. There’s a taqueria on just about every corner here. Love it. You could live very well on tacos without spending too much.

This is a fried avocado taco with arugula, cojita cheese and chipotle sherry vinaigrette. So creamy, crunchy and tasty. Yum.

Next to Izzos Tacos was Gourdough’s! I don’t usually go for doughnuts, but these options seemed interesting and we hadn’t tried desserts yet on this trip. (Sorry for the glare. It was bright out there).

Kay and I shared a Dirty Berry. It’s a fluffy doughnut with a crispy crust covered in cinnamon sugar. Those toppings are grilled strawberries, fudge icing and chocolate chips. It reminded me a bit of a funnel cake. But more awesome.

This is bar food from East Sixth Street. Beet fries with kewpie mayo and a fried Brussels sprouts salad with cilantro, onions, cabbage and sweet croutons. DELICIOUS. It was worth the wait for East Side King, a food truck in the patio area of Liberty Bar. All around awesome. We ate inside the bar where it was warmer and the drinks were just a few bucks.

Forgive me for this weird picture, but this was one of my favorite things from the whole trip. This was part of the perfect night in Austin, which started with drinks at a new favorite bar, flavorful chiles relleno for dinner at Iron Cactus, and ended with a Lone Star at a dueling piano bar.

Ladies of the 80s was an event at the Alamo Drafthouse featuring two hours of music videos from kickass 80s women with lyrics on the screen for everyone to sing along to. That probably sounds odd, but this exceeded all my expectations. This represented all the weird and fun that is Austin.

Things started with a quick dance-off for tequila shots. Picture a theater full of women singing along to 80s classics, going from a “Joan Jett growl to a Whitney Houston high.” Throwing around 99 red balloons for Blondie. Getting on stage for the conga line with maracas. It started raining men with  blow-up men coming down on us. Throwing streamers to Cyndi’s True Colors. We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder. So much girl power.

With every song, I was afraid it would end. But at midnight it was time for all of us Cinderellas Cyndis to go.

This was the perfect follow-up, Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar. Two guys took requests from the crowd and faced off on pianos. The bar crowd sang along. Lots of fun.

Here we are hiking the Barton Creek Greenbelt, a rocky trail that was perfect on a cool Texas morning.

It was so pretty out there! This hike goes by quickly because it stays interesting with elevation and plenty of rocks to get around.

Just some more of this city’s quirk seen on the trails down by Town Lake.

On Saturday after an incredibly intense kickboxing class (ow, I’m sore) we headed to the farmers market.

There were lots of interesting things to see and try here, including wild boar, rabbit, gizzards. I had a kolache, a Czech pastry with slightly sweet bread, pulled pork and jalapeños. Kay shared her delicious biscuits and gravy. Food sells out quickly here.

Picked up some edible souvenirs.

Toured the capitol.

Peché. Here’s that new favorite bar I was talking about. It’s an absinthe bar serving “pre-Prohibition” style cocktails.

A bartender set up Kay’s second drink with a contraption that lets the champagne drip, drip, drip into the absinthe and “open up” the flavors. Her first drink was a Fig Manhattan, sweet and totally cool. There was fig foam!

I had a Manhattan Henge, which mixes Rittenhouse bonded rye whiskey and Nomino Amaro, an Italian herbal liqueur. The bartender said I’d like this because it wasn’t too sweet. Like? Love. I had two.

The deliciousness comes partly from this $100 can of cherries imported from Italy. Wah wah, fancy. But these dark cherries are soooooo good. Nothing like the bright red maraschino cherries you see on sundaes.

We were heartbroken when we tried to go back to Peché on Saturday only to find they were closed for a private party. I’ll have to come back.

One final meal of eggs, pancakes and $2 mimosas at Kerbey Lane Cafe. Goodbye for now, Austin. Kay, my dear friend, thank you for an amazing visit to Austin!

Chocolate Cake

One little slice of this cake looks so innocent. From here you can’t tell it’s been enhanced with freshly brewed coffee and buttermilk. The combination makes this cake rich, irresistible, and moist. (You won’t taste the coffee, but it wakes up the chocolate flavor). Ina Garten spares you any butter in the cake itself, only to make up for it with two sticks of butter in the frosting. Dang, girl.

Are you a frosting or cake person? I think most people prefer frosting. I often skip it and instead eat the cake part of cakes. But this chocolate buttercream frosting is so light, so airy and oh-so-delicious. You can smell the chocolate before you see it. And the next day when you pull it out of the fridge and “share” with your boyfriend, the cake has changed a bit. The frosting has hardened, which is not a bad thing at all. One bite and you’ll see that now you get to enjoy letting the buttercream melt in your mouth.

Mm.

Splurged on some fancier chocolate for the frosting. This was a birthday cake after all. Actually, two birthdays! With 24 candles for a 25-year-old and a 23-year-old.

One day my frosting skills will get better. It’s been a while since I baked a cake. Still looks luscious, and I want to dive right in.

It’s dangerous that something this good is so easy to make. I might find myself with leftover coffee after breakfast one Saturday and realize how close I’d be to having this cake again. Too close. At least I could count on giving away most of it to friends. They said they want more.

chocolate cake

serves 8 to 10, adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (and a little more for pans)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
  • butter for greasing the pans

Heat the oven to 350ºF. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans. (You can use cocoa powder to keep it all the same color).

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine. You may need to scrape the bottom of the bowl with a spatula. Pour the batter into the round pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Place one layer, flat side up, on a plate or cake stand. With a knife or spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

chocolate buttercream frosting

  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks!) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and let cool.

Beat the butter on medium-high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer down to low and gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as you need to until it’s smooth and creamy. On low speed, add the chocolate to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t whip. Spread frosting immediately on the cooled cake.

Carnitas

The store only had pork butt. Boyfriend didn’t think pork butt and pork shoulder were the same thing. He’s the one who always likes to stick to the recipe, which in this case called for pork shoulder. I usually don’t mind improvising. So he didn’t believe me when I insisted that butt is shoulder and shoulder is butt. The butcher quickly settled this question – phew! – because we were hungry and needed to go straight home and start cooking.

This is a simple recipe that doesn’t create a mess in its making. One pot. One cutting board. One good knife. Then, you’ll wait. Wait and stir. A couple hours later we were rewarded with tender and tasty pork. The crispy ends were incredibly flavorful and had a hint of sweetness. Is it the orange? The condensed milk? Next time we may try shredding the meat for tacos.

This was great for dinner with mashed potatoes. Still really good for lunch with some rice.

carnitas

If you haven’t cooked much meat before, this is a good recipe to start with. There’s no bone or skin to fuss with, and you just need one pot and a few hours before this is ready for dinner. A couple pieces of orange helps makes the meat tender and finishing it in a hot, hot oven turns the carnitas browned and crisp. Serve with rice or try slightly smaller pieces for tacos with plenty of salsa, queso fresco, and pickled onions nearby.  Carnitas keep in the fridge for up to three days.

makes 8 servings or 24 to 32 tacos, adapted from Truly Mexican via epicurious

  • 4 pounds fatty pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 orange, cut into 2 pieces
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil (or pork lard)
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons fine salt or 4 teaspoons kosher salt

Get your ingredients together, cutting the meat last. Put all the ingredients in a wide 6-to 7-quart heavy pot, and bring the water to a boil. It’s alright if the pork is not completely covered.

Lower the heat to a medium-high setting and simmer vigorously in the uncovered pot until the pork is fork-tender, and the liquid has completely (or nearly all has) evaporated. Stir occasionally. This should take 1 ½ to 2 hours.

Discard the orange pieces and bay leaves.

Heat oven to 450°F. Put the pot in the oven. Cook the pork uncovered for about 20 minutes. There’s no need to stir.

Cheese Twists

Cheese!

Herbs!

Straws. Sticks. Twists. Call them what you want. The point is they are super tasty. The twisting is a little tricky. I ended up folding the long strips once and then twisting, which made things a lot easier. I cut the strips about an inch thick, but next time I’d go for a half-inch. The puff pastry makes them crisp and light.

You could throw some hot sauce into the egg wash that gets brushed on the puff pastry, an idea from Shutterbean and Joy the Baker. I added a little sriracha, but I was really shy about it. So that flavor didn’t come through.

The herbs and cheeses could probably be switched up for whatever is in the fridge.

Took these to a party. No leftovers!

cheese twists

makes 18 to 24 cheese sticks, depending on how thick you cut them, adapted from Barefoot in Paris

  • 2 sheets (1 box) frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • flour, for dusting
  • 1 extra-large egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup finely grated Gruyère cheese
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 375°F. Roll out each puff pastry sheet on a lightly floured board.

Beat the egg with 1 tablespoon of water, and brush the mix on both sides of the puff pastry sheets. Sprinkle each sheet evenly with the cheeses, herbs, salt and some pepper. Use a rolling pin to lightly press the flavorings into the puff pastry.

Use a pizza cutter to cut each sheet into long strips about a half-inch thick. Twist each strip and lay on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and puffed.

Cool and serve at room temperature.

Espresso Coffee Soda

I don’t really like soda. Every now and then I’ll have a little bit of Milca, but normally I’ll just take my Jack and Coke without the Coke, thanks.

But a drink I do enjoy is coffee. Love the smell, love the taste.  Serious Eats recently wrote about this Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee Soda, and Danny remembered that he’d seen it at Mazzaro in St. Pete. This stuff has been brewed since 1895! Look at that dramatic label! We were curious, so he grabbed a bottle the next time we were there. (Accidentally grabbed the diet version).

The first ingredient in this soda is pure coffee. The drink is a really dark color and smells strongly of espresso. It’s interesting. It tastes like someone spilled their Coke into my iced coffee. I probably won’t finish the 10 oz. bottle because it’s super sweet, but it’s worth a try. Next time I’ll make sure to get the original.

How do you like my skull and crossbones glass? I thought it was appropriate for such a caffeinated combo of afternoon boosters. Happy Friday!