Archive | September, 2010

Challenge: Can you go a month without processed food?

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I love a good challenge. It’s why I get up on Tuesdays and Thursdays and subject myself to a grueling strength training class.  I’m very much of the mindset, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  So, I was delighted yesterday as I perused through my much ignored Google Reader and happened upon this challenge from Eating Rules
No Processed Food Challenge

Andrew Wilder encourages each of us to go one month without eating processed food. He defines processed as follows: 


Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with readily available, whole-food ingredients. If you pick up something with a label (and if it doesn’t have a label, it’s probably not processed), and find an ingredient you’d never use in your kitchen, it’s processed.

The motivation for change is to avoid the hidden bad guys in processed food:  extra sugar (particularly High Fructose Corn Syrup that is more difficult for the body to process), salt, additives and food coloring.  Instead, Andrew urges each of us to eat more fresh food and, if you aren’t comfortable with his definition of processed food, to come up with your own.

Produce at Cedar Park Farms to MarketDSCF2796

I primarily do this anyway, although when I know I’m going to have a busy week, I buy canned black beans or jarred pasta sauce.  I used a canned enchilada sauce last week instead of making my own, but I was just being lazy.

This challenge has already made me rethink some plans for this weekend.  I am traveling tomorrow and was planning to eat a Clif Bar for breakfast at the airport tomorrow.  Instead, I’ll set the alarm a little earlier and eat breakfast at home before I head out.  I’ll have to pack some nuts and fruit in my briefcase to make sure I don’t get caught without food in the terminal tomorrow. (Finding unprocessed snacks in an airport can be a real challenge.)

Even though I’ll have to change my thinking about a few things, I feel like for the month of October that I can pull this off.  Want to join me?

If you are hesitating, maybe a month feels to long to you.  Would you be willing to try a week or two instead?  What are you willing to give up to feel confident that you know what you’re eating and that it is good for you?
Let me know the challenges you are facing so we can tackle them together.  Surely, someone else will feel the same way.  Skip the boxes and cans for a month and let’s have some fun in the kitchen.
C’mon!  Let’s give it a try.  Sign the Unprocessed Food pledge.

Farmers Market change: This Saturday, 10/2, due to a conflict with the Capital City March Band Festival, the SFC Farmers Market at Sunset Valley  will relocate to the Sunset Valley Home Depot on Brodie Lane. You can grab some veggies and some paint!

Next Saturday, October 9th, the market will return to its regular spot at the Toney Burger Center. As a matter of fact, you might want to make plans to attend that market on the 9th as the Downtown market, while still full, will also be in the midst of all the Austin City Limits Festival traffic. (Thank you, but no.)

See you at the farmers market!

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Road Trip: Discovering Food Truck Heaven at Denver Civic Center Eats

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I love a good picnic – sitting outside with friends enjoying great food.  Now imagine a picnic in perfect Denver weather with 25 food trucks providing the fare or, as I like to call it, food truck heaven.

Denver’s Civic Center Eats Outdoor Cafe brings together over two dozen food trucks, trailers and food carts to serve lunch to hungry downtown workers every Tuesday from mid-June to the end of August.  The schedule was extended through September this year because of the cafe’s popularity.

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The program is run by the Civic Center Conservancy, the nonprofit that manages the Civic Center Park nestled between the Capitol and the City and County Building and home to the Denver Art Museum and the central library.

Civic Center Park

Knowing the list of vendors was long, my friends and I decided to divide and conquer – buying lots of dishes and sharing so everyone could have a taste.  I reconnoitered menus as vendors set up, making sure we didn’t miss any hidden gems.

My friend Lindy Eichenbaum-Lent, Executive Director of Civic Center Conservancy, suggested that we start with the Biscuit Bus, the mobile arm of the Denver Biscuit Company.    The truck offers savory and sweet sandwiches on one of the most delicate, flaky biscuits you have ever tasted.  We ordered the Ellsworth with chicken, honey, mustard and homemade pickles and it was a a perfect combination of sweet and tart on a buttery biscuit. The sweet potato fries were perfect – nice and crispy.

Biscuit BusChicken Biscuit & Sweet Potato Fries

For our second act, we headed to The Porker food cart, a new vendor that week.  As the name suggests, this cart celebrates all that is pig from the bagged pork rinds to the pork belly while also offering some incredible light salads.  We chose the pork belly with a soba noodle and a watermelon, cucumber and goat cheese salad.

They mix the salads to order and pay careful attention to balancing the flavors in the dish.  The soba noodle salad had sweet mango and crunchy bell peppers that paired perfectly with the rich belly and the watermelon salad was light and refreshing.  The Porker was definitely my favorite find  of the day.

Mixing Salads at The PorkerPork Belly with Soba Noodle salad from The PorkerWatermelon & Cucumber salad
At this point, I was thankful there were four of us tasting the dishes and that we had three hours during which to stretch our meal.  Pinche Tacos was next up on the list and I could tell from their long line that this was going to be a treat.  This mobile taqueria was started by Kevin Morrison, co-founder of the Spicy Pickle deli chain.  According to his bio, Kevin was tired of the corporate life and wanted to have some fun.   It’s a good thing Kevin followed his instincts.

We tried three of Pinche’s tacos: the queso a la plancha, lengua and the asada.  The lengua was by far the best of the three with tender beef tongue in a subtly spicy roasted chipotle salsa.  It was one of the best tacos I’ve ever had.  The queso a la plancha was a first for me; sort of a Mexican style grilled cheese sandwich with griddled Cotija cheese.

Crowd at Pinche TacosDSCF3245

Our final savory stop was the Deluxe Street Food whose truck is also know as The Little Orange Rocket.  This truck, the mobile arm of the brick and mortar restaurant Deluxe, is offering truly innovative food truck fair from ceviche cones to curries to truffled mac and cheese balls.

The most difficult part of visiting the Deluxe truck was narrowing the choices as we were edging on stuffed.   The ceviche cone and truffled mac and cheese balls did not disappoint.  The cone was filled with refreshing, light fish in a perfectly tart and spicy marinade.  The truffled mac and cheese balls were rich and creamy and a little overwhelming – delicious, but definitely a dish to share.

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We ended our lunch exploration at The Inventing Room, Ian Kleinman’s dessert cart that was inspired by Willy Wonka.  The cart looks more like the lab of a mad scientist than a bakery as Kleinman whips up ice cream to order using a liquid nitrogen tank.  Even the marshmallows get the freeze dried treatment giving you a crunchy sweet topping.

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In many ways, this event is possible because Denver’s mobile food scene, like others around the country, has exploded in the last few years.  Brick and mortar success stories like Steuben’s, Deluxe and Denver Biscuit Company all have food trucks now.  And, like in Austin, up and coming chefs are finding food trucks, carts and trailers an affordable way to get started and build their brand.  I expect to see great things as both The Porker and The Inventing Room grow.

The street food scene in Denver has grown so much that several of the vendors have formed The Justice League of Street Food (love this name) to organize events, capitalizing on the type of synergy and crowds created at the Civic Center Eats lunch.

Justice League of Street Food Logo

Lunch at Civic Center Eats Outdoor Cafe was incredible (and I’m not just saying that because my friend runs the program.)  The park is a beautiful backdrop for the innovative, creative vendors and I desperately wanted to transport my friends from Austin to the park to share the experience.  Denver has areal jewel in its downtown crown with this event and I can’t wait to go back next year.

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Celebrating Austin’s Best – One Food Event at a Time

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The next few weeks offer some fantastic events where you can enjoy bites from some of the best chefs in Austin.

Monday, September 27th is the Austin Area Regional Competition for Chefs Under Fire™,  a culinary challenge hosted Keeper Collection, LLC that pits emerging Texas chefs against one another for the title of Chef Under Fire 2010. Each regional competition will select one finalist to compete for the title against the best of the best from across the state.

Austin Regional Finalists include Chef Erica Beneke, MAX’s Wine Dive Austin; Chef Jose Camero, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts; Chef Jason Hardacker, Silver Whisk Cooking School; Chef Tanner Harris, Thai Fresh; and Chef Keith Hildebrant, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.  The local judges panel will include Chef Josh Watkins of The Carillon and Chef Paul Qui of Uchiko.

The Austin event will take place Monday, September 27, 2010 at 7:00pm at Texas Beef Council in Austin, TX.  A limited number of tickets, $35, are available to the public for the event and are for sale on the Chefs Under Fire site.  The finale is being held at the AT&T Conference Center on Monday, October 25th.

This week is also Go Texan Restaurant Round-Up week when the Texas Department of Agriculture works with restaurants from around the state to promote Texas meat and produce.  Through October 1st, you can enjoy prix fixe menus or discounted menu items at about 20 Austin restaurants.  Some of the restaurants are also donating a portion of their proceeds to our local food bank.

On Thursday, October 7th, the Texas Wine and Food Foundation hosts their annual Tour de Vin which will explore European and South American wines and food this year.   The event, hosted on the rooftop of Whole Foods from 6:30 to 9:00 pm, features tastes from two dozen local restaurants and 48 wineries. Tickets are $50 for members and $75 for the general public.

Rounding out the list is La Dolce Vita, the annual fundraiser for the Austin Museum of Art.  Thursday October 14 from 6 to 9 pm, the museum will host over 50 restaurants and dozens of wineries distillers on the Laguna Gloria grounds.  Tickets are $100 for museum members and $125 for the public.

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Road Trip: NYC Union Square Greenmarket

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When I think of New York City, I think of abundance.  You can find anything – any cuisine, any spice, any ingredient.  It’s no surprise that you can also find a farmers market any day of the week.

When I visited New York in August, I skipped  the morning session of my conference so that I could explore the crown jewel of the cities farmers markets – Union Square Greenmarket.  I was there on a Friday so there weren’t quite as many vendors as a Saturday, but there were still sufficient treasures to find.

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In addition to abundant produce, you could enjoy fresh squeezed juices, pretzels and cheeses galore.  I was particularly impressed with the Valley Shepherd Creamery sheep’s milk cheeses – the pecorino was amazing.

Red Jacket Orchard Juices
Pretzels
Pecorino Fresco
Ricotta

The meat choices were plentiful as well.  Several stalls offered everything from beef, pork, chicken, rabbit and beautiful fish.  In addition to chicken and duck eggs, you could also buy emu and ostrich eggs.

Rabbit
Fishmonger at Union Square Market
Ostritch & Emu eggs
I asked if anyone ever bought the emu and ostrich eggs and the vendor assured me that they sell all the time.  The ostrich eggs are the equivalent of two dozen chicken eggs and he noted that people often buy them to make large omelets for parties – a novelty to please the crowd.

I found my favorite treasure of the day in one of the produce booths.  The bin was loaded with what looked like very small tomatillos.  When I asked the farmer what they were, she said the were husk cherries.  I’d never heard of them before so I bought a pint.

Husk Cherries (cape gooseberries)

Their name is deceptive as they are related to tomatoes, not cherries.  The little fruits are alternately called cape gooseberries, but again they are not related to berries.  To eat them, you peel back the husk and pull out the fruit.  They taste a little like a cherry tomato, but with a sweeter flavor and very little acidity.  I should have bought two pints so I could play with them in the kitchen.  Instead, I ran around town making all my foodie friends try them.

The next time you’re in New York on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Saturday, wander over to Union Square and see what treasure you can find.  The market is open four days a week from 8 am to 6 pm.  It’s worth the detour.

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