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Cooking the books: The Frugal Gourmet Cooks With Wine

I’m not entirely sure where I picked up my copy of The Frugal Gourmet Cooks With Wine, but it was probably in a bin of unwanted items that had been donated to the Concordia Co-op Bookstore, before I moved to Austin. (Check the local Half-Price Bookstores here in Austin, if you’re looking to score, as they might just have a copy.) At any rate, this pocket-sized cookbook contains 425 pages of recipes made with wine, as well as information on how to choose wines to drink or stock your cellar, and it was totally worth the 50 cents I paid for it (according to the pencil marking on the inside front cover).

I grew up watching Jeff Smith’s Frugal Gourmet program on PBS, so I knew from previous exposure that the book was going to be a good bet, but I never realized how truly awesome some of the dishes really are until I actually started cooking them at home. After all, anything can look great on TV when a professional is doing the cooking, but how will those same dishes stand up to the test in a not-so-tricked-out home kitchen?

As a home cook, I’m a big fan of recipes that involve minimal specialty ingredients, as well as anything that will have multiple servings I can freeze and reheat in the future. The recipe below for Chicken and Chickpea Stew from the “Spain” section fulfills both of my requirements, and as an added bonus it can be made on a weeknight if you make some of our quick ‘n’ easy substitutions. Check this out:

Shoestring Austin’s Simplified Chicken & Chickpea Stew
(based on a recipe from The Frugal Gourmet Cooks With Wine)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans chickpeas, drained
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • all the meat from a store-bought rotisserie chicken, torn up into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 slice whole wheat bread
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1 slice bacon
  • 2 c. chicken stock (preferably from a can or carton, rather than made from the bouillion cubes)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 eggs, hard-boiled and peeled
  • 1/2 c. dry sherry

Directions:

  1. Heat a large frying pan and add the oil. Brown the chicken pieces on all sides and remove from the pan.
  2. Fry the slice of bread in the remaining oil. Remove it and set aside.
  3. In the same pan, sauté the onion, tomatoes and bacon. Cook until the onions are clear.
  4. Place these veggies into a big (6-quart) lidded Dutch oven, and add the chicken pieces and chickpeas.
  5. Deglaze the frying pan with a bit of the broth (i.e. pour in some of the broth and scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan). Add the pan drippings and all the stock to the pot, along with bay leaf, salt and pepper.
  6. Cover and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the chicken is tender. (The original recipe required about 45 minutes, since you only browned the otherwise uncooked chicken, but since you’ve just browned pre-cooked chicken, this shouldn’t take as long; probably 10-15 minutes).
  7. In the meantime, crush the garlic into a small bowl. Break up the fried bread and add to the garlic, along with the yolks of the hard-boiled eggs. Mash the mixture with 1 T. of the sherry, creating a garlic/egg yolk paste.
  8. Chop the white of the eggs.
  9. When the chicken has been simmering for 10-15 minutes, add the garlic paste, chopped egg whites, and remaining sherry.
  10. Stir the pot carefully and simmer for another 10 minutes and you’re done!

The Frugal Gourmet recommends enjoying this dish with a light red Rioja wine on the side, which sounds great to me. I’ve made this dish the “long” way, with a full chicken, and even that doesn’t really take too much prep time. You just have to keep an eye on the simmering pot and stir it every once in a while, since it’s on the stove for 45 minutes. If you’ve got the extra time, I’d definitely give it a try that way to see how you like it, but our weeknight version with the pre-cooked chicken will shave off quite a bit of cooking time, getting your meal on the table faster, and will still give you a lot of the original recipe’s great chicken stew flavors. This is a great wintertime dish to warm you up, and if you like you can serve it over rice as well. Enjoy!

A Kerbey Lane Café Christmas

This Christmas, I wasn’t able to spend the holiday with my parents, since a) the truck is rattling in a scary way and b) still being new to Austin means the job hunt continues onward (if you just said “What? You mean Shoestring Austin isn’t paying your bills?! How can I help?” you should get in touch regarding our sponsorship and advertising opportunities!). Anyway, this means that the Husbot and I were on our own for the holidays, and not feeling up for making the usual enormous Christmas Feast. As such, we started clicking around online in search of some places that would be open today, December 25, the day of Baby Jesus’ supposed birth.

Kerbey Lane Café, Northwest location (photo via kerbeylanecafe.com)

We found the Kerbey Lane Café, an Austin favorite that has apparently been voted “Best Breakfast” every year since 2005. Nice! Although we haven’t yet taken advantage of their crazy early-bird breakfast special (for a mere $3.45 between 4 and 7 AM, daily), we like the thought of a resto that’s open 24-7 and has a slightly more upscale ambiance than (our admittedly cheesy fave) Denny’s. Inspired by the fact that their Northwest location was open today, we set out in the Truckasaurus to taste the Kerbey Lane Café’s wares.

The Husbot ordered their Cobb Salad, which he’d been salivating over since he noticed it on the web version of the menu. I dithered for a while, trying to decide what would be best, kind of wanting to order a Cobb Salad of my own, or maybe one of their Cobb Sandwiches (basically, a Cobb Salad on bread), but hating that feeling of “copying” a fellow diner. (I like to at least be able to trade a bite or two with my dining companions, to get a better idea about what the rest of the menu is like.) Ultimately, I went with the Chicken Enchiladas Verde, and we also tried the Bloody Mary (he) and Kerbey Kosmo (me) from the drinks menu.

I enjoyed my Kosmo, which was a local twist on the typical Cosmo made with Tito’s Vodka and pomegranate liquor. I had a sip of the Husbot’s Bloody Mary, which was a real kick in the teeth with its spiciness. He thought it was tasty, as he enjoys a good Caesar (or Mary in a pinch).

Annoyingly, when the food arrived I was all the more disappointed in my selection. Should’ve had that Cobb Sandwich! I had a few bites of the Husbot’s big salad, with bleu cheesiness, hard-boiled eggs, bacon, chicken and romaine lettuce galore, and was totally jealous. My enchiladas were okay, but nothing like the spicy authentic Mexican dishes I’ve gotten used to eating here in Austin. I can’t really put my finger on anything I would say was bad about them, but they just weren’t as face-meltingly hot as I like them to be. On the plus side, however, I had room for dessert, which was what I had really wanted to order since we walked in!

Checking out the dessert menu, I noticed they listed cheesecake, and said to inquire with the waiter about daily specials. I asked what the cheesecake of the day was, and our waiter told me it was a peanut-butter and chocolate concoction. Yum! I ordered a slice and offered a few bites to the Husbot, who thought it was “too rich.” (He admits he has lost his taste for desserts since a particularly sweet-toothed ex-girlfriend ruined him with too many breakfast sweets.) I thought it was delicious, although I will also admit to enjoying the pleasures of a straight-up plain cheesecake, which I would be curious to compare it to in the future.

All in all, I would have to say that the Kerbey Lane Café (Northwest location) was a decent spot for lunch, and I’d be interested in giving them another try. The waiter also noted that different locations have different menus, so I’m wondering if perhaps there are other items I might enjoy more than the enchiladas in the future.

ADDRESS: 13435 Highway 183 N. (Northwest location; see website for other locations)
PHONE: (512) 258-7757
ONLINE: kerbeylanecafe.com

Helping others this holiday season–for free!

The holiday season is upon us, and like a lot of you out there, I don’t have a ton of money to spend on gifts this year. Maybe you’ve also been passing the bell-ringers and donation slips at the grocery stores, wishing you could help out those less fortunate, but feeling like that one-buck donation isn’t really going to do much?

Here’s your chance to do something good—for free!

It’s really simple, and will help give struggling families something they really need, all year ’round: FOOD. Just click on the gizmo below to help Shoestring Austin support hungry families this holiday season. For each e-greeting you send to friends and family—along with a bunch of neat holiday recipes—Kraft Foods will donate 10 meals. This is a great way to show you care, just by clicking a few buttons and sending out the seasonal cards you probably forgot to send anyway. Let your family and friends know you care by sharing the love, the recipes, and the seasonal donations to worthy charities… and get ’em to pass it on to THEIR friends!

If you’re feeling particularly giving, sign up for an account at SocialVibe and keep doing the little quizzes and activities to contribute even more money to this cause, or any other you prefer. They’ve got everything from HIV/AIDS charities to animal protection societies to causes that help prevent hunger and homelessness. It’s a cool social media site where everything you do gives a little bit back. It’s way better than a Facebook quiz that’ll sell your info (and your friends’ info!) to a bunch of evil corporations, so check it out!

Whatever your religious/spiritual/holiday views, it’s always awesome to donate time, money and support to charities. I’ve got a bunch that I favor, but helping feed the hungry is a big one on my list. Shoestring Austin would like to urge you to contribute to the many fine organizations around town that help feed those in need all year ’round, but most especially during the holiday season, when it’s so easy to help. Check out the Capital Area Food Bank’s website or the Eastside Community Connection for more information on how you can donate food or volunteer your time this holiday season.

Finally, if you like freebies, Christmas music, and Lady Gaga, you should definitely go download this free MP3 of Lady Gaga’s Xmas song, “Christmas Tree,” over at Amazon.com while you still can. Hilarity (and dancing) shall ensue. Consider it Shoestring Austin’s e-gift to you for donating your precious time to our little charity cause. Thanks, Austin!

My chocolate addiction

Hello, my name is Laura, and I’m a chocoholic. I love chocolate, lust after it, need it. As such, I’m wondering if Austin has any particularly great chocolate shops, or any locally-made chocolates that can be purchased at the grocery store? I’m just about to Google my brains out looking, but if you’ve got any tips, I’d love to hear ’em!

"I (heart) chocolate" (based on a photo by Flickr user jovike)

More chocolate articles (and sweet, sweet photos) soon to come, but in the meantime, be sure to check out Chocolate.com for all your home-delivery chocolate needs, as well as this edutaining article I wrote about chocolate’s health properties, entitled Research on Health Benefits of Chocolate.

XOXO,
Choco Fanatic, aka Laura

Hut’s Hamburgers

I found Hut’s Hamburgers quite by accident. I was downtown, starving my ass off, and right on 6th Street. Up ahead, a shining beacon: Hut’s Hamburgers! I love me some all-beef patties, so—badda boom, badda bing—I stepped inside and was instantly transported back in time.

Outside of Hut's Hamburgers (photo via hutsfrankandangies.com)

I’m not sure what era, exactly, Hut’s is currently channeling, but the place has been around since 1939, so there’s plenty of memorabilia to gawk at. Penants from all manner of university teams, photos signed by famous sports heros and celebrities, Texas license plates, neon lights, a longhorn steer’s head, and a big woolly buffalo head. While you wait for your food, you’ll likely find yourself wondering where all this stuff came from, how long it’s been there, and what the story behind it all could be.

Inside, Hut's Hamburgers (photo via hutsfrankandangies.com)

But then you’ll get your juicy burger, with all manner of unusual condiments and fixin’s, and all of your concentration will be diverted toward enjoying it to the fullest—while it lasts. Those burgers are often devoured as fast as they’re placed on the table, so be prepared! Plus, they’ll put everything but the kitchen sink on there, if you want it. (Actually, they’ve even got a “Sink Burger” on the menu.) Chili, jalapeños, various cheeses from Swiss to Cheddar to Bleu, mushrooms, guacamole, even pineapple, my friends. Plus all the usual suspects like mustard, mayo, ketchup and (my favorite) delicious salty bacon. God bless America, and Texas for spicing things up!

In my opinion, the best burger on the menu is the “Mr. Blue,” a delightful mix of bleu cheese crumbles with dressing, Swiss cheese, lettuce, bacon and one of Hut’s Texas-bred longhorn-beef patties. Grass-fed, hormone-free, this beef is some of the best, and with these simple but classic toppings, it’s a surefire winner. Another one I’m tempted by is the “Milner’s Mushroom Burger,” with thick, creamy mushroom sauce and grated cheese. And you can’t go wrong with the all-American classics like the “Hut’s Favorite” (mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, bacon and American cheese), “The Dagburger” (double the meat plus mayo, lettuce, tomatoes and American cheese), or the aptly-named “All American Buddy Holly Burger” (mayo, mustard, onions, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes and American cheese).

If you’re feeling wild and crazy, and have somehow wound up at Hut’s without a craving for a juicy burger (are ye MAD?!), the menu also offers all manner of fast-food eats, from hot dogs and grilled cheese to southern-style Po’ Boys, NYC-style Reubens and pure Texas chili. For dinner, there are also plate specials on chicken-fried steaks, fried chicken, meat loaf and catfish on Fridays (the menu states “while supplies last,” which makes me wonder how fast catfish goes in Texas, anyway). Grab a soup and a salad if you’re on a diet, and be sure to save room for dessert, cus they’ve got old-fashioned milkshakes, Coke and root-beer floats, fudge brownies and a Brownie Blitz—one of their fudge brownies blended into a milkshake and topped with whipped cream. Yum!

As far as specials go, this one’s tops: On Wednesdays, from 6-10 PM, Hut’s offers a “happy hour” on all their burgers, where you can get two of the same type for the price of one. Yowza! For vegetarians, you can get the same deal on Monday nights as well (but only on veggie burgers). More good news for vegetarians: All of their veggie burgers are made in-house, fresh, and never frozen.

I’m glad I stopped by, as Hut’s is one of those places I’ll return to again and again, trying something different every time. Plus, it’s a great place to people-watch (especially during the lunchtime rush) or take a trip down memory lane. Although I’m not old enough to remember the 1950s, I do remember going to a similar 1950s-esque joint in Chicago when I was a kid. Portillo’s is now a chain throughout the Chicagoland area, while Hut’s remains at its’ original location, but the vibe at each was the same: good food, good prices, and plenty of atmosphere. Just what I like from my nostalgia-laden fast-food eateries. Dig it!

P.S. Be sure to check out their sister restaurant, the Italian Frank & Angie’s, just behind Hut’s if you’re in the mood for pizza and pasta, or a nice Francis Ford Coppola wine.

ADDRESS: 807 West 6th Street
PHONE: 512-472-0693
ONLINE: hutsfrankandangies.com

Austin thin-crust pizza round-up

As the New Girl in town, I’ve been ordering a lot of pizza. I’m busy setting up a new apartment, trying to find a job, and just can’t be arsed to cook sometimes between the laundry and the blogging and the trying to find a decent damn dollar store where stuff actually costs only one dollar. I’m sure this happens to everyone. (Maybe not the dollar store thing.) Of course, being the New Girl, I also have no idea which places are good for delivery-style pizza. And, man, can this be a problem when it shows up at my door looking all sorry and smushed.

"Home Slice of My Heart" (photo by Flickr user FilmNut)

I’ve tried my share of the U.S. chains over the years, and while I seemed to recall Papa John’s being pretty good back in the days when I lived at my parents’ place and we actually had to pull a Seinfeld-esque scam to get them to deliver to us (the cut-off for delivery to our area was literally the house next door; we would give their address and sit in the driveway with the cash), it seems their wares haven’t withstood the test of time. Either that or I’m getting picky in my old age, but I’d like to think a cardboard-like crust has never qualified as a pizza.

Still, Papa’s got locations everywhere and you can order online, which is something a phone-phobic weirdo like me can appreciate. As some say, bad pizza’s like sex: even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.

I don’t typically share that opinion, however—not outside of NYC, anyway—so I’ve been on the hunt for a more satisfying pie. I gave Gatti’s a try, but was similarly disappointed in their thin crust. Their toppings, however, delighted me more than Papa John’s, and you can also order online. (Seems to be a trend here in town, which I applaud. Now if they’d just take Paypal…) Smoked provolone cheese on a pizza? Nice touch, boys. You’ve got goombatz.

After I got a hot tip from my banker, I hit up Austin’s Pizza. Of the thin-crust pizzerias in town, so far I’ve enjoyed Austin’s the most. Now, you can order online here, but it seems my credit card has expired (this after my fuggin’ bank just sent me a replacement card a month ago; nice job, maroons!), so I had to do it the old-fashioned way and call. The gal I spoke to was friendly and polite and gave me the same price they quoted me online, which includes a $2 delivery fee. I’ve noticed most of the joints around here have this fee, which ranges from about two to four bucks a pie, and it makes me wonder: does this mean I should leave out the tip for the delivery guy? Or is this just another way to jack up the price?

Anyway, Austin’s was smooth. You can get a small or a large (10 or 14″), build your own or pick from some of their tried-and-true selections. The Californian with grilled chicken, spinach, Roma tomatoes, red onions, garlic and cheddar cheese was calling my name, but I ultimately opted for a DIY mushroom + “breakfast bacon” (as opposed to “Canadian bacon”—which Canadians actually refer to as “back bacon”) + Jack cheddar cheese/mozzarella concoction that hit the spot. Nice thin crust, not at all cardboard-y (score!), plenty of cheese, salty bacon, and decent mushroom spread. Could’ve used a bit more from the topping distribution (I find Austin pizzerias to be a bit chintzy on the toppings in general), but it was definitely the tastiest thin-crust pie I’ve had thus far.

Oh: I was also terribly tempted to throw in one of their Butter’s Brownies, described as “A locally-made chocolate chip square of heaven, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the Donna Hicken Foundation for women living with breast cancer, and the Mayo Clinic.” I mean, chocolate heaven AND donating to breast cancer? That’s hot! Alas, I did not give into this temptation, but perhaps next time. I do love me some brownies.

Giordano's: the One True Chicago Deep-Dish pizza!

I should add that I’ve also tried Conan’s Pizza, but I’m waiting on another suggestion from the Foodie Banker to compare and contrast their “Chicago style” with another in town. As a born-‘n’-raised Chicagoan (okay, okay: I’m really from the western suburbs, but eff off, willya?), I’ve got hometown pride about the proper way to build an authentic Chicago deep-dish pizza. And obviously, Giordano’s is the One True Chicago Deep-Dish, but since they have yet to set up shop here in Austin, I’m giving the locals a chance to prove themselves.

So, any suggestions for a worthy pie—deep-dish or thin-crust? Knock my socks off!