Archive | February, 2010

Dining Out Sustainably: Austin Restaurant Week

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I love a great meal, but some of my favorite restaurants are in my “special occasion” price range.  Luckily, twice each year Rare Media hosts Austin Restaurant Week (ARW) when participating restaurants offer tasting menus between $10-$15 for lunch and $25-$35 for dinner – a deal for these venues.

Even better, many of the restaurants source locally, so you can enjoy the bargains and support local farms at the same time. That’s what I call a win-win!

Following is a list of the participants restaurants who source locally with a link to their Austin Restaurant Week menu.

Aquarelle
Fabi & Rosi
FINO Restaurant Patio & Bar
Hudson’s on the Bend
Jeffrey’s
Judge’s Hill Restaurant
Paggi House
Parkside
Perla’s
Somnio’s Cafe
Trio

The spring round of ARW runs Sunday through Wednesday for the next two weeks (February 28th – March 3rd and March 7-March 10th.)  So what are you waiting for?  Go make some reservations!

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Stocking Up on Local Goodies at the San Marcos Farmers Market

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21610_1Recently I kept my niece and nephew for several days at their home in Buda so that my sister and her husband could have a little skiing time with their friends.  I always relish getting to step in as Aunt Kiki (what my niece and nephew call me, so unless you are 8 and precious don’t bother trying), but living in Buda for a week presents some definite challenges for me.

21610_2The kids and I shopped at the Downtown Austin Farmers Market on Saturday, but by Monday we were running out of some things and I needed a market – STAT!  Luckily, San Marcos has a market every Tuesday afternoon from 3:00 to 6:00 and it was just 15 minutes from their house.  We bundled up and headed south on I-35 to check it out.

The San Marcos Farmers Market, located at 204 S. Edward Gary under a covered shelter, is operated by the same group who runs the New Braunfels Farmers Market I visited last summer.  Many of the vendors were the same. and I even recognized Omas & Opas farm from our own downtown farmers market.
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It was pretty chilly on the winter afternoon we visited, but there were still several produce and bread vendors as well as a vendor with locally raised meat and poultry. I needed bread for a BLT I’d been craving, so we stopped by the Phoenix Rising booth and bought a loaf of whole wheat with 9 grain bread.  From the produce booths we stocked up on carrots, Brussels sprouts, radishes and broccoli.

The kids bought their Mom a lovely bar of peppermint soap. Watching my nephew sniff a dozen different bars to the find the perfect one was
priceless – he apparently has quite the nose and guessed every scent without being told.

We piled back in the car very satisfied with our adventure to San Marcos.  Even at this smaller market, we managed to fill our shopping bag and have a great time.  If you are in San Marcos between 3 and 6 on a Tuesday, take a few minutes to go explore the market.  It’s worth the stop.

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Living Local: A Year Without A Grocery Store

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21310_1Many of us are buying more local produce and meats, frequenting the farmers markets a little more often than the grocery store.  My friend Carla Crownover has taken her locavore lifestyle to a whole new level.  She challenged herself at the beginning of the year to go one year without shopping at a grocery store.

To give you some perspective, Carla, co-owner of Austin Urban Gardens, is a foodie.  Central Market was one of her favorite outings each week, exploring new foods and tastes as she shopped.  When she told me of her new undertaking, my first question was “How are you going to go a year without Central Market?”  Carla apparently has greater resolve and discipline than me.
I recently interviewed Carla to see how it was going.  You can follow Carla and her daily updates on her “No Grocery Store Challenge” on her blog
AF2T: Why did you decide to start the “Year with No Grocery Store Challenge?”

Carla Crownover:  I was inspired to start the No Grocery Store Challenge for a Year, after seeing the movie “Food, Inc.” It was quite an eye opening look into our food supply and it disgusted me. I already had a substantial garden and shopped at Farmers Markets, but not exclusively. I’m learning every day how much I relied on the grocery stores for more than I realized.

AF2T: If you aren’t shopping at the grocery store, where are you shopping?

Carla Crownover: I am shopping at Farmers Markets and occasionally Boggy Creek Farm. I have relied heavily on Richardson Farms for beef, pork and chicken; Kocurek Family Charcuterie for prepared sausages and bacon, and Countryside Farms for duck eggs.  I’m looking forward to the opening of Antonelli’s Cheese Shop so that I can get Pure Luck Cheese there, since they aren’t at the farmer’s markets. [Note: Antonelli’s opened on Thursday, February 11, 2010.]

AF2T: Are you growing any of your own food and, if so, what?

Carla Crownover: Currently in the garden I am growing broccoli, several varieties of lettuce, carrots, onions, fennel, garlic, shallots, strawberries and watermelon radishes. I also have a most of the herbs growing in pots in the greenhouse.

AF2T: What do you do about essentials like toilet paper, shampoo and soap?

Carla Crownover: I have always bought shampoo from my hair salon. I get soap at Tarrytown Pharmacy when I pick up my prescriptions, and toilet paper, toothpaste, and actually some spices at CVS. Home Depot has toilet paper and cleaning supplies as well. I get Mrs. Meyer’s cleaning supplies at Breed and Company.

AF2T: You’ve made it through the first full month, what has been the biggest challenge so far?  Are there any foods that you miss?

Carla Crownover: The biggest challenge is planning ahead. I’m learning to think several meals ahead, when before I would just pick something up. I’m learning to plan ahead more in the garden as well, so that it can be more productive all year round. 
I miss lots of things: avocados, canned beans, canned tuna, rice, the tarragon chicken salad at Whole Foods, salmon, fresh jalapenos, garlic, already made tortillas, and Costco coffee, because it is good and so much cheaper. I loved the deli sandwiches at the Fresh Plus on West Lynn. I still eat out, so I’m not really deprived.

AF2T: Have you had any surprises or revelations in your first month?

Carla Crownover: I didn’t realize how often I went to the grocery store, and sometimes several different ones in one day for different things. I also did not realize how often I’m not in the mood for what I’ve got planned for dinner, so I would run out and pick something else up.

AF2T: Have you been tempted to go in a grocery store?

Carla Crownover: I had lunch with a friend at the Cafe at Central Market. I did peer into the store before I left and was tempted to go grab a cart and fill it with lots of fun stuff, but then I realized I didn’t really need anything.
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Savoring the Simple Pleasures of Winter Crop

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21010_1As I embark on cooking a complicated dish (Cassoulet and, yes, you’ll get the recipe later), I’m reminded that some of my favorite meals in the last few weeks have been the simple ones I’ve thrown together at the last minute.  Sometimes, I think we get so caught up in the fancy recipes that we forget the lovely, easy things.

The other day I found a  Black Spanish Radish at the Sunset Valley Farmers Market.  I love radishes, but this black variety was new for me.  Instead of cooking it or putting it in a salad, I took the advice of the farmer who told me it was a Belgian custom to slice them and eat them on rye bread with butter. I chose an Organic Mustard Seed Rye from New Bread Rising and had a delicious lunch.  (You’ll want to peel the black radish; the skin is tough).

21010_2Or, maybe it’s the first of season Brussels Sprouts I bought from Engel Farms.  I was so excited to see Brussels Sprouts again that I practically ran to the booth to buy them.  Sauteed with a little of the Dai Due Tasso Ham, they made an incredible, simple dinner.

21010_3Of course, the mouth-watering BLM (Bacon Lettuce & Mozzarella) sandwich and rutabaga oven fries I made for lunch one day was pretty delicious, too.  The sandwich was a true farmers market triumph:  bacon from Richardson Farms, the lettuce from Bella Verdi Farms, Full Quiver Mozzarella and whole wheat bread from Phoenix Rising.

21010_4I’d never had a Rutabaga before and bought it on a whim.  Kristin Kessler Schell of The Schell Cafe suggested that I make oven fries with it.  I learned a long time ago to listen to Kristin, so I peeled it and cut it into fries, tossed it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and cranked up the oven to 400 degrees.  After 25 minutes, I had a tasty side for my sandwich.

21010_5Tonight’s dinner was equally simple but lovely.  I had one more Meyer lemon from the Sunset Valley market and a piece of flounder from San Miguel Seafood.  Clearly, these two items were meant for each other.  I sliced the lemon thin, placed the fish in a dish, sprinkled it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and placed the lemon slices on top.  After 20 minutes at 350 degrees, I had a flaky, flavorful piece of fish.

I paired it with sweet potatoes and cauliflower cooked in a Korman Curry mix that I bought from Sukhi’s Gourmet Indian Foods at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Market.  The meal was fantastic and it required so little energy and preparation on my part.  Perfect for a busy weeknight.

What about you?  What easy, wonderful meal have you made lately that really showed off your farmers market prizes? Remember, it doesn’t have to be hard to be delicious?

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