Austin Food Trucks: On the Road and À la Mode

Food Truck Austin

Food trucks are just one of many things to love about Austin (more about my love affair with the city in a separate post…).  We’re not talking “roach coaches” or the standard taco trucks that cruise construction sites – although I hear you can get some pretty mean Tex Mex.  I’m talking about the early-morning, late-night, humble, vegan, kitschy, original, ethnic, delicious cafes, barbecues, dessert wagons and more.  No matter your taste, they’re a culinary adventure on wheels.  It turns out that, in addition to being the Live Music Capital of the world, home of the UT Austin, Whole Foods and the hipper-every-year South by Southwest festival (SXSW), Austin is a street food lover’s paradise.  Appearances range from unassuming to artistic, clever and sometimes downright odd.  Some go it alone, rolling with abandon from one spot to the next and you have to track the location via Twitter.  Others cluster together in cozy two’s or three’s and feature shaded tables by day and a festive, sparkling ambiance at night.  One establishment – Torchy’s Tacos –  even grew from one trailer to 14 locations in 4 cities, and others have been featured on The Food Network and Cooking Channel.  These aren’t dives or greasy spoons – often food trucks offer some of the best and freshest food served by some of Austin’s most talented chefs.  There are several websites such as Austin Food Carts, Best Austin Food Trucks, Food Trailers Austin and Roaming Hunger that feature maps, menus, reviews and more.

Although the Gypsy Picnic Trailer Food Festival is taking a sabbatical, that combination of words stirs the imagination and makes me want to pack a basket and hit the road.  The good news is that every day is a festival and you can have the pleasure of sampling good food at decent prices when you visit these local eateries on wheels.

Gordoughs_Roaming Hunger

Gordoughs (Roaming Hunger)

Korean Truck

Korean BBQ Tacos

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Beyond Ramen: Students Abroad Seeking Inspiration!

Ramen

You’re far from home, renting a room and dealing with limited resources and unfamiliar ingredients.  It’s the middle of winter and the schedule is busy but you’ve got to eat and stay healthy.  You can’t eat out every day but don’t want to eat leftovers all week.  What’s a student to do?

Here’s the challenge!  Find a few recipes that are:

  • quick and fairly easy – prep shortcuts welcome
  • nutritious, including several food groups and some variety
  • inexpensive, with limited ingredients and waste
  • made with readily-available ingredients (anywhere in the world)
  • vegetarian or fish
  • made on the stove (no oven available)

I’ve been cooking for the multitudes since I was 15 and have a walk-in pantry and more than enough gear – so cooking for one on a hotplate is a distant memory.  Daughter and I are both doing some research, but I know that all of you are a great resource!  Please comment with your best tips.

Around the World #7: Moroccan-Inspired Vegetable Stew & Couscous

Moroccan Market

Creative Commons: Adam Greig

I dream of someday exploring the markets or souks of Marrakesh.  I see a clash of colors, with slippers of every hue piled high, stacks of pottery, piles of beads and textiles draped across the ceilings.  The sounds of music playing, vendors shouting and people talking are overwhelming and spicy scents fill the air…

Wait – that is just the lingering aroma of our Moroccan-inspired dinner!

This post is dedicated to my father-in-law, a Spaniard born in Morocco, and my daughter, a student and explorer of North African cultures.

Moroccan Vegetables

Moroccan-Spiced Sweet Potato Medley

Serves 6

(this recipe was borrowed and adapated from Good Housekeeping’s Simply Vegan!)

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped fine

3 garlic cloves, pressed

1½ teaspoons curry powder

1½ teaspoons ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

1 can (14½ oz.) diced or crushed tomatoes

1 cup vegetable broth

1 cup garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

1 large sweet potato, cut into ¾” cubes

2 small zucchini, cut into ¾” pieces

¼ cup frozen peas

1 cup couscous (prepare as directed)

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot.  Add onion and cook until tender and golden, 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in garlic and spices and cook 30 seconds.

Add tomatoes, garbanzos and sweet potato; cover and heat to boiling over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir in zucchini and peas, cover and cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare couscous according to package directions.

Serve stew over couscous.

Good with warm naan or pita bread and a salad.

Regional Cooking: Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili

Not long before he died, my grandfather sent me his recipe for his famous Cincinnati Chili.  I was thinking of him over the holidays and reminiscing about his chili and cheese grits with my brother.  In the spirit of family and regional cooking, I’ll share his “secret” recipe that he was careful to pass along to me.

Cincinnati Chili is a regional style of chili con carne which is believed to originated with immigrants from Macedonia and has been served for almost a century in hot dog stands, diners and “chili parlors” throughout Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.  Cincinnati Chili has a thin consistency and is made with seasonings such as cinnamon, cloves, chocolate or allspice.  It is usually served over spaghetti or hot dogs and often topped with shredded cheddar cheese and diced onions.

I did a little research and found that there is an art to ordering this chili, something like ordering a coffee at Starbucks.  Here’s an example:

  • Bowl:  chili in a bowl (may be served with oyster crackers)
  • Two-way:  chili and spaghetti
  • Three-way:  chili, spaghetti and cheese
  • Four-way:  chili, spaghetti, cheese and onions
  • Five-way:  chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions and beans
  • Four-way bean:  chili, spaghetti, cheese and kidney beans

Cincinnati chili can also top a “coney dog,” which usually also includes mustard, cheddar and onion.

Cincinnati Chili

makes 2 quarts

Combine the contents of 1 package of chili mix (any brand) with 1 – 6 ounce can of tomato paste in a large saucepan and add 6 cups of cold water.  Add 1½ lbs. of lean ground beef – RAW (do not brown).  Stir with a fork until the beef is completely broken into small pieces.

Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring vigorously.  Sprinkle in 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 4 bay leaves and 2 dried chilies.

Reduce to a simmer and DO NOT COVER.  Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 3 hours until desired consistence – not too watery and not too thick.

Serve over spaghetti and add grated cheddar cheese.  Makes good conies, too.

Add salt, pepper and hot sauce to individual taste.

Sounds crazy, but it works.  And only one dirty pan.

 

Around the World in 50 Plates: The Christmas Edition

Paella

The day began with a brisk walk and a trip to revolutionary France (we saw Les Miserables at the local cinema).  This evening I spoke with my brother, we journeyed to Madrid via Skype and enjoyed paella with a glass of Rioja.

Simple.  Bliss.

Around the World #6: Tunisia, Shakshuka and Salad

Tunisia

House on the Mediterranean (photo credit:  Valerie Montes)

The smallest country in North Africa, Tunisia is bordered by Algeria, Libya and the Mediterranean Sea.  Tunisian culture is mixed due to a long established history of conquerors such as Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Turks, Spaniards, and the French who all left their mark on the country.  In January, 2011, Tunisia made headlines around the world when a campaign of civil resistance led to the removal of longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and eventually to protests throughout the Middle East known as the Arab Spring.

This post is dedicated to my eldest daughter, a courageous world traveler who spent some time in Tunisia and came to love its beauty, food and blend of French, Berber and Arab culture.  Her stories have made me want to visit this little-known place so full of natural beauty and history.

Tunisian Market

Tunisian Market (photo credit:  Valerie Montes)

Shakshuka is a flavorful egg dish that can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Perfect meal with a salad and bread.  I accompanied this with a cheap and cheerful German Gewürztraminer – the fruity sweetness of the wine was a nice contrast to the spicy salad.

Shakshuka

¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
1/2 onion peeled and chopped

1 clove garlic, pressed
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 yellow bell peppers, seeded and chopped
2 tsp brown sugar
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, minced
3 ripe roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
¼ teaspoon saffron strands (optional)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
¾  cup water
4 eggs

2 green onions, sliced

In a skillet, dry-roast the cumin on medium-high heat for about two minutes, until fragrant and golden brown.  Add the oil and sauté the onions for two minutes.  Add the garlic, peppers, sugar, bay leaf, thyme, parsley and coriander, and cook on medium-high heat until vegetables are tender. Add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for 15 minutes, adding just enough water to keep it the consistency of a pasta sauce.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  You can prepare the sauce in advance.

Make 4 wells in the tomato mixture and break one egg into each well.  Cover the skillet and cook gently for about 8 minutes, until the eggs are set.  Top with green onion and serve with pita bread or French baguette.

Tunisian Shakshuka

Tunisian Salad
3 large roma tomatoes, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, choppedPeppers and Tomatoes
2 small serrano peppers
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
3 eggs, hard-boiled and quartered lengthwise
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 small can light chunk tuna or albacore, drained
10 olives (black or green)
Romaine lettuce leaves

Place eggs in cold water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Drain hot water and fill with ice water.  Peel and quarter hard-boiled eggs.

Preheat oven broiler and place serrano peppers on a broiler pan.  Broil peppers for 4 minutes, turn over and broil another 4 minutes until skin is charred.  When cool, peel charred skin off carefully. ( **Use latex gloves or similar when handling peppers, if possible and be sure not to touch your eyes).  Once peeled, cut in half lengthwise, remove seeds with a knife or small spoon, and chop peppers finely.
In medium bowl, combine tomatoes, bell peppers, roasted serrano peppers, onion and garlic.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and allow to sit for 15 minutes.   In a small bowl, mix coriander, red pepper flakes, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Pour over vegetables and toss.  Chill for 30 minutes.  On a serving platter, arrange romaine lettuce leaves.  Mound vegetable mixture on the leaves, then top with tuna chunks.  Arrange eggs and olives around edges.  Drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle with paprika if desired.  Serve with a French baguette or loaf of sourdough bread.  Serves 3 – 4.

Tunisian Salad

Tunisian Salad

Everyday Gifts: 10 No-Cost or Low-Cost Ideas for the Holiday Season

Ornaments

It’s the holiday season, and the pressure builds to buy.  So that we may give.  But giving does not always require a purchase.  In fact, when I look back over a lifetime of friendships and family and giving, the most memorable gifts have been from the heart – not from a store.

Here are some ideas for low-cost or no-cost gifts that make a true impression.

  • Original Art.  Frame a drawing, painting or simple sketch or scan, print on high quality paper and make holiday cards.  An abstract painting on thick paper can be cut into bookmarks (with an inspirational quote).
  • Children’s artwork.  See above!  Kids’ artwork and photos can also be incorporated into simple and memorable ornaments.
  • Love of reading.  Read a good book lately?  Share with a friend that has similar tastes and have a book club for two over a cup of tea.
  • Instant garden.  Pot a few plants from your garden that can be taken inside for the winter.  An arrangement of a few small succulents potted in sandy soil becomes an instant garden.
  • Seeds for the future.  Save seeds from your butterfly plants or vegetable garden, dry and package in ziplock snack bags.  Wrap in a square of decorative cloth and tie with a ribbon or tuck into an inexpensive cloth bag (you can find mini tote bags or gift/favor bags  at the dollar store).  Gift tags can include a drawing or printed picture of the future plant, fruit or flower.
  • Cooking inspiration.  Share a few of your favorite recipes and include the finished product or a few hard-to-find or exotic ingredients.
  • Make mine a double.  The next time you bake, make a double batch and share with a friend or neighbor.
  • Home sweet home.  Furniture, kitchenware or other items not in use are a welcome gift for someone just starting out, a student or friend in need.
  • Mr. (or Ms.) Fixit.  Offer to share your skills and talents with someone that needs assistance.  Rake, shovel, repair, or do some computer maintenance – your time will be well spent and much appreciated.
  • Songs and laughter.  Organize a house concert or talent show and share the gift of music and companionship.  The price of admission can be a drink or snack, a willing voice and plenty of applause.

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