La Condesa

La Condesa Decor 2La Condesa is becoming a mainstay of ours. From their bright and cheery décor, to having one of the Top 5 Margaritas in Austin, this is the kind of place that just makes me happy.

 

La Condesa TacosOften thought of as one of the more expensive Mexican restaurants in Austin, the key is knowing when to go and what to order. On Sunday mornings, skip the specialty cocktails and opt for their $2 Bloody Mary and Mimosas. Get some of the tacos, they are mix and match and can be ordered a la carte. Grab a fish taco, grilled and dressed with a light aioli and pair it with one of the roasted chicken tacos, topped with cilantro, onions, and salsa verde and you are on your way.

 

La Condesa Mixta Con Pollo RostizadoThe best brunch dish at La Condesa is the Mixta Con Pollo Rostizado. Mixed greens are piled high with thinly sliced onions and cucumbers, avocado and queso fresco, very lightly dressed in a mustard vinaigrette. The roasted chicken is perfectly seasoned and seems to be finished with a confit style of cooking, which gives it a savory balance to the fresh greens, not often found in a typical salad.

 

 

Margarita La CondesaIf Happy Hour is more your thing, come in for some of the best specialty cocktails in Austin. I would love to know who comes up with their cocktail list. The Margarita La Condesa, with fresh pineapple and herbaceous cactus-lemongrass salt rim, is perfectly balanced, and is number one on my list of Top 5 Margaritas in Austin.

 

 

The cubico is La Condesa El Cubicodownright sinful. The spice of the saffron salt rim and the smokiness of the tobacco pairs perfectly with the sweet vanilla brandy and grilled pineapple juice. Top it off with a hefty pour of cazadores resposado, you have the perfect sipper for when there is a little chill in the air. Best of all, all drinks are half off during happy hour, so the normally pricey specialty cocktails are all $6 from 5-7pm.

Parmesan Crusted Pesto Chicken

Parmesan Crusted Pesto ChickenWith the cold front that moved through this past weekend, I knew it would be too cold for my outdoor basil plants to survive. I was thinking about making a traditional pesto with pasta, but tis the season for heavy eating, and wanted to keep it light with Thanksgiving only a few days away.

I tried this on a whim, but this is the most fresh, flavorful chicken, hands down! I will need a few more basil plants next summer, so I can make this a weekly tradition. It’s a relatively light dish, but it sure doesn’t taste like it with the garlicky parmesan crust. It’s a great dish if you don’t have a grill; the cast iron skillet is perfect for going right from the stove top into the oven. Less to clean up!

Ingredients (serves 4):
4 chicken breast halves
1-2 cups loosely packed basil laves
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
1 oz. parmesan, shredded
½ tsp. salt
Black pepper to taste

Parmesan Crusted Pesto Chicken 2In a food processor, process basil, garlic, oil and balsamic together until basil is crushed. Pour marinade over chicken, and mix in shredded parmesan, salt and pepper. Heat skillet to medium-high, and sear chicken for 3-4 minutes per side until nicely brown. Cook in oven at 375 degrees for 15 minutes, or internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.

Enjoy!

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter FudgeIs there a better combination than chocolate and peanut butter? I don’t think so. One of my favorite treats to make during the holidays is fudge. This recipe is extremely easy, takes less than 5 minutes to prepare, but tastes like you’ve been slaving away for hours. Your friends and family will be impressed!

Ingredients:
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk, divided equally
6 oz. dark chocolate chips
6 oz. white chocolate chips
⅓ cup peanut butter
Pinch salt
1 tsp. vanilla (divided ½ tsp. in each)

In microwave safe bowls, put half condensed milk and dark chocolate in one bowl and the other half condensed milk, white chocolate and peanut butter in a second bowl. Put a pinch of salt in each bowl. Microwave for 20 second increments, until chips are melted and no lumps remain, stirring each time. Stir 1/2 tsp. vanilla in each bowl and spread into 9×9 container lined with parchment paper, using a toothpick to make swirls in top.  Let set in the refrigerator for 3 hours, then cut into pieces and store at room temperature.

It doesn’t get any easier than that. This recipe can easily be changed to make all chocolate or all peanut butter fudge. Play around with different ingredients like walnuts, pecans, marshmallows, sprinkles… The options are endless!

Enjoy!

Sous Vide Fried Chicken

Sous Vide Fried ChickenFried chicken is one of my favorite dishes of all time, ever! It seems like a simple southern dish, but it can be pretty tough to time the perfectly crispy outside with having thoroughly cooked inside. This is just one more reason to love my Sous Vide Supreme – this recipe for Sous Vide Fried Chicken. As discussed in my Sous Vide Flank Steak recipe, Sous Vide style of cooking includes a water bath being set to a precise temperature, usually the temperature that is desired for the internal temperature of what is being cooked. For a medium rare steak, that temperature is somewhere between 130-135 degrees. Since the safe internal temperature for chicken is 165 degrees, always set the water temperature to at least 165 degrees when cooking chicken. This way, the chicken is completely cooked before getting a quick, high temperature frying.

The rest of the recipe is fairly traditional for fried chicken. Prepare the brine as discussed below, which will season the chicken and lock in the juices. Add ingredients to water and bring to a boil, letting simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, cool, and pour entire brine mixture over a whole, cut-up chicken. Return to refrigerator and let sit at least 8 hours to really get that chicken juicy and flavorful!

Brine
1 gallon water
Lemon, quartered
Large shallot, cut into slices
2 cloves garlic, smashed with knife
Tbsp. peppercorns
1 cup kosher salt
Boil all together. Let cool, and pour over chicken for at least 8 hours, up to 2 days.

After removing from brine mixture, rinse chicken and transfer to a Sous Vide bag and zip, carefully removing as much air as possible. Usually I use a vacuum sealer, but the sharp chicken bones would likely puncture the bag if that much pressure was applied, so I just use a zipper bag.  Immerse at 165 degrees for approximately 2 hours.

Now that the chicken is cooked, if can be breaded and fried at a higher heat, which will give it a perfectly crispy crust in about 8 minutes, without having to worry that the inside won’t be cooked properly. I like a little kick to my fried chicken, so I put a few dashes of hot sauce in with the buttermilk and cayenne pepper and lots of black pepper into the breading mixture. It’s not an overly spicy recipe, but feel free to adjust to your taste!

Sous Vide Fried Chicken 2
1 pint buttermilk
Few dashes hot sauce (I used Frank’s)
3 cups flour
1 tbsp. black pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. salt. More to taste after frying (the brine is fairly salty)
Fry in 375 degree oil for 3-4 minutes a side until golden. Place on a wire rack to drain excess oil after frying.

Enjoy!

 

Perla’s

Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar has one of the best patios for brunching in Austin. Located on popular South Congress, their nautically themed patio gets relief from the blazing Texas sun by their sprawling live oak tree. Enjoy the dappled sunlight, along with a Soco Fizz or Bloody Mary as you wait for your table.

Since seafood is what Perla’s does best, the Breakfast Bouillabaisse is a perfect choice for any seafood lover. The broth is well seasoned with notes of saffron and just the right amount of saltiness that is expected from a shellfish base. Filled with shrimp, whitefish, and mussels, there is no shortage of variety to keep you interested in the next bite. It’s topped with a perfectly cooked poached egg that isn’t your normal breakfast fare. Similar in style to a Scotch egg, sans the sausage wrapping, it’s coated in breadcrumbs to give it a thin crispy outer layer. Sweep up the runny yolk with the grilled French bread that add the finishing touches to this wonderful dish.

A newfound favorite of mine is shrimp and grits. Their perfectly spiced jumbo shrimp, served with lemon butter and fresh herbs is served alongside a large portion of rich cheesy grits.

Perlas Flat Top CheeseburgerYou might not think of ordering a cheeseburger at a seafood restaurant, but the Flat Top Cheeseburger is one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. It’s a classic American – double patty, perfectly seasoned, topped with American cheese, lettuce, onion and tomato with a secret mayo sauce. Served with homemade shoe string fries, it’s juicy, a little messy, and totally awesome.

Lemon Drop Cocktail

Lemon Drop CocktailMargaritas rule the summer, but as the weather turns cooler, I want something a little different.  Finding a mixed drink at a restaurant can be a bit of a challenge for me. Often times the specialty cocktails are too sweet; I don’t care for sour mix or sweet juices. Some of the classic cocktails, like a Martini or Old Fashioned are a bit on the strong side. This Lemon Drop Cocktail takes the edge off of a classic Martini by adding some lemon juice and sugar, but doesn’t add a lot of the extra sweetener found in manufactured fruit juices. The key is using fresh juices, and experimenting with the amount of sugar added to please your palate.

 

OXO Measuring JiggerSide note, I am completely obsessed with this little OXO Measuring Jigger. It has measurements in tablespoons and ounces printed on the inside to help get the perfect pour. Most jiggers have the 2 oz. line right at the tippy top, so it’s hard to measure and pour into a shaker, especially if you are making your second (or third) cocktail. It’s also an awesome little measuring cup for anything you need a small portion.

Ingredients:
1 tsp. sugar
2 oz. vodka
1 oz. orange liqueur (I used Cointreau)
Juice of a lemon

In a cocktail shaker, add sugar, vodka, orange liqueur and lemon juice. Before adding ice, stir with spoon to melt sugar. Once melted, add ice and shake to blend. Strain into a martini glass, or how I like it, onto a large ice cube.

Enjoy!

Cheesy Ham and Broccoli Bites

Cheesy Ham and Broccoli Bites 1These make a tasty appetizer for the holidays and they are also great for a snack or light lunch if you are looking to use up some leftover ham or turkey. I made these with ham, but turkey can easily be substituted. Buttery, flaky crescent rolls are filled with ham, cheese and broccoli and baked to golden perfection. Who knows, you might even trick someone into eating broccoli!

 

 

 

Cheesy Ham and Broccoli Bites 2
Ingredients:
1 tube crescent rolls
4 oz. ham, diced
8 oz. steamed broccoli, chopped
3 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
2 tbsp. onion, minced
Juice of half a lemon
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard

 

Cheesy Ham and Broccoli Bites 3Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine ham, broccoli, cheese, onion, lemon juice and Dijon mustard. Lay out crescent rolls and spoon an even portion of the ham mixture into the center of each roll. Carefully fold edges to center so you have what resembles a knot. It’s OK if some of the filling is poking out. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with mustard for dipping.

Enjoy!

Emmer and Rye

Emmer and RyeWhen you love food as much as I do, getting invited to a soft opening of one of Austin’s most anticipated restaurants is like a sports lover getting invited to a championship game. Opening this Saturday in the Sky House on Rainey Street, Emmer and Rye is serving up New American dim sum, and they are doing it right.

Their broad selection of offerings come in two different ways; first there is a menu with small plates, pastas, main dishes and desserts to choose from. Choose some of the on-menu items. Then, there are servers with wooden dim sum trays and carts to tempt you with the evening’s dim sum offerings. The dim sum ranges from lighter soups and vegetables, to more substantial as the meal progresses. The light grilled eggplant topped with goat cheese, perfectly ripe tomatoes and a clean, fresh pesto was a perfect starter to the heartier grilled cabbage with savory pork. The restaurant uses local growers, so their offerings will change regularly based on seasonality and availability.

The impeccable attention to detail is noticed right away and the amount of time and preparation that goes into each dish. The Where There is Smoke cocktail actually has a smoked ice cube, which gives it a warm, autumn-y quality. Many of their dishes contain ingredients that are fermented in house, and there is even a closet next to the bar where jars of goodies are on display, fermenting away for lucky restaurant goers in the future.

Emmer and Rye 2Their platings are beautiful, especially the Grain Salad, with feta, cucumbers and tomato. The Porridge of Smoked Oats and Emmer, Lamb Neck and Pickled Okra Seeds was outstanding. Salty, but not too salty, savory but not too savory, and left us wanting more. Our favorite of the larger dishes was the Wagyu Short Rib. Spiced with a little chili, it was fall apart tender. Ask for some of the buttery, flaky bread to sweep everything off the plate.

To round out all of the savory with a little sweet, the Goat’s Milk Panna Cotta was perfection, with a cool, lightly sweet cream, topped with crunchy granola, and a salty, sweet honeycomb.

Bottom line – try the dim sum, save room for the on-menu items, and do not skip dessert!

Best Ever Oven Baked Chicken

This dish takes me back to being a kid. I’d request this chicken on every birthday, special occasion or anytime Mom asked what I wanted for dinner. These were the few times she was let off easy, because this Best Ever Oven Baked Chicken is really easy to make! The sauce is full of flavor and keeps the chicken juicy. This dish is best served alongside potatoes, mac and cheese, or broccoli, because they are the best for sweeping up all of the sauce in the chicken.

 

Ingredients:
⅔ cup ketchup
¼ cup soy sauce
3 tbsp. vinegar
2 tbsp. canola oil
¼ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 whole chicken, cut into parts

Whenever I make bone-in chicken, I cut the breasts in half so they are closer in size to the other chicken pieces. When chicken can cook more evenly, it helps to keep the smaller pieces from drying out while the larger cook.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, oil, garlic powder and black pepper. Place chicken in large baking dish and pour sauce over chicken.  Cover pan with foil and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil, and bake 15 minutes more.  Finish under a low broiler, until skin is browned and internal temperature is 165 degrees. Serve, and spoon sauce from the pan onto chicken.
Enjoy!

Wine Pairings:
District 7 Cabernet Sauvignon

El Alma

El Alma MargaritaWhat’s not to like about El Alma? Their frozen margaritas are some of the Best Margaritas in Austin, and they have a great rooftop patio that overlooks the Austin skyline. In a city flush with Tex-Mex, El Alma is a much welcomed, more traditional, approach to Mexican food in Austin.

El Alma CevicheI’m a sucker for a good brunch or a good happy hour, and since El Alma has both, it’s not surprising that we are there often. They have happy hour pricing from 3-6pm daily on some of our favorites. The Margarita Clasica and Margarita Chilanga, a spicier version of the classic, with the addition of Valentina hot sauce, are both discounted. The Ceviche Clasico is exactly how it should be; a large portion of flaky fish, dressed with tomatoes, onions, serrano and lime served with fresh, homemade chips. For a perfect balance of adobo marinated pork and sweet grilled pineapple, try the savory Pastor taco. All of their tacos are sold a la carte, and are perfect for a happy hour snack.

El Alma Huevos Franceses

If you can’t wait until happy hour, Saturday and Sunday brunch is where it’s at. The Huevos Franceses, two poached farm eggs and spinach on corn pudding; with chipotle hollandaise, tomatoes, and avocado, is one of the best brunch dishes I have had anywhere (and I’ve been to my share of brunches). It’s savory, mildly spicy, and visually stunning. When really hungry, you can’t go wrong with the Pollo a la Parilla, a large grilled chicken breast, chipotle tomato salsa, caramelized onions, and grilled queso panela on a platter piled high with spicy potato wedges.
You simply cannot have a better start to your day than a sunny patio, overlooking downtown Austin and frozen margaritas. That’s a fact.