Author Archives: Shoestring Austin

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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!

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!

Alamo Drafthouse

I knew when I moved to Austin that I had to check out the Alamo Drafthouse movie theaters. The concept is simple: it’s a movie theater that also serves up booze. I’d heard Chicago has a similar concept happening, but Austin’s Alamo blows this out of the water. Not only do they serve alcohol and the standard popcorn and Junior Mints, but they’ve also got a full menu for those who like to take dinner and a movie all at the same location.

Alamo Drafthouse Ritz (photo via Alamo Drafthouse)

Alamo Drafthouse Ritz (photo via Alamo Drafthouse)

At first, you might wonder if all this chowing down and ordering during the films might turn a rowdy crowd loose, with NYC-style yelling at the screen encouraged. Luckily, the rules are simple and spelled out for newbies by groovy waitstaff: write your order on the slip of paper and place it standing up in the designated pocket. The waiter will come by to take and deliver your order silently, and will place a bill on the narrow table to pay before you leave. Warnings from Homestar Runner are also played onscreen to remind the audience to shut the heck up, turn off cell phones, and refrain from rowdy behavior. Sweet!

For those who do like to talk back to the screen, there’s another bonus: the Alamo’s Quote-Alongs and Sing-Alongs. Seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off so many times you can quote the whole thing from start to finish? Lucky for you, there’s Quote-Along night, where “you’re *required* to yell out your favorite lines, stand up and dance to the best songs from the soundtrack, and play with a series of props that are handpicked for most movies.” For all those who’ve ever seen (and loved) the cult-classic Grandma’s Boy, there’s an upcoming Quote-Along scheduled for December 24. Even if you’re way too baked to drive to the Devil’s house and have a robot vagina, you won’t want to miss this one, Grey Bush.

As the type of person who likes to comment aloud on movies (especially the really bad ones), I’m pretty stoked about the Quote-Alongs, as well as their Weird Wednesdays (where only $1 gets you in) and monthly Dionysium debates (for those who like to get their think on). If you’re a hard-working member of the service industry, you also get a break on Monday-night movies, pizza and pints. Nice!

The menu varies from one Drafthouse to the next (there are four locations in total), but all feature movie-themed menu items such as “The Breakfast Club” (lettuce, tomato, smoked bacon and a fried egg on sourdough with chipotle mayo) and the “Royale With Cheese Burger” (an Angus patty with lettuce, tomato, onions, cheddar cheese, bacon and chipotle mayo). When I hit up the Alamo’s Village location, I tried one of their white wines during a viewing of Where the Wild Things Are. It was kind of surreal to be watching a kid’s book that had been made into a movie for adults whilst drinking wine as a few rugrats got scared to death a few seats over.

The only negative thing I can really say about the Alamo Drafthouse is that if you drink half a bottle of wine while you watch a movie, you’re probably going to have to use the bathroom about halfway through. This isn’t a big deal when you’re watching flicks at home and can just pause the DVD, but it’s a bit annoying to have to sneak out, pee, and come back to your seat. I guess this is probably why most theaters don’t serve alcohol. But then again, they do serve those giant 48-ounce sodas, so what do I know?

All in all, the Alamo Drafthouse is definitely my favorite cinema in Austin, and one of my top hangouts overall. Check it out and bask in one of the ways locals like to Keep Austin Weird.

Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q

After a hard day of apartment searching, I got a hot tip from my agent about Rudy’s Bar-B-Q. Since they were in the neighborhood (or I was in theirs?), I hopped in the BBT (Big Black Truck) with my Dining Companion and took a spin to see what all the hubbub was about. Or if there were, indeed, any hubbubs to be had.

The agent had mentioned that there was a handwashing machine outside the restroom, and indeed there was! It says to insert your hands and allow the machine to clean them for you. Truly, the lazy man or woman’s dream! In fact, it even suggested that this is “a jacuzzi for your hands.”

I was a bit too embarrassed to try it out, given that the whole restaurant can watch anyone who does. Maybe next time.

Photo by Laura Roberts

As you enter Rudy’s, you’ll see a lot of interesting signs, including one for their “sause” which refers to it as “The worst BBQ sause in Texas.” Above the door to the kitchen, there’s another warning: “If y’all don’t wanna cook, stay outta the kitchen!” Hanging above the line-up (which became rather long just after we arrived) there was another winner. It read: “In case of slow-moving line, break glass.” The kicker? This sign was attached to a glass case containing a cattle prod.

I was giggling to myself as I took stock of all the down-home signage, and further amused myself by watching the meat festival on the “Cutter Cam.” There, you can watch as the kitchen crew slices and dices brisket with remarkable dexterity. It’ll make your mouth water as you await your food.

Meanwhile, the Husbot was sampling menu items and shooting me thumbs-ups from the counter. Ultimately, he came to the table with half a pound of beef brisket, half a pound of baby-back ribs, some BBQ turkey for later, and a container of potato salad.

Then came the sause.

I liberally applied it to the ribs and took a bite. Delicious! I tried it on the brisket. Delightful! I decided against dipping the potato salad into it, as that would’ve been weird. But I was mighty tempted to use the white bread they’d given us (for making sandwiches) to sop up the extra sause.

Although we’d purchased a pound of meat, plus potatoes, we both felt we could’ve eaten more meat after we plowed through the first batch. Overall, we found Rudy’s to be tasty and inexpensive, with 100% oak smokiness and country store charm. Worst BBQ in Texas? Flagrant false advertising… or maybe just a clever bit of reverse psychology.

ADDRESS: 11570 Research Blvd.
PHONE: 512-418-9898
OTHER LOCATIONS & MORE INFO ONLINE AT RUDYS.COM

The Screaming Goat

The first local restaurant the Husbot and I tried in Austin was The Screaming Goat, as we passed it by on our totally random, self-guided driving tour of downtown. The place looked nice from the outside, located in a little house on 10th Street just off Lamar Boulevard, and naturally the name intrigued us. Stomachs grumbling, we decided to give it a whirl.

screaminggoat

Photo via Sifting Through Austin

Entering the restaurant, there’s a tiny counter with the equally tiny menu. Choose from tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tostadas, tortas or flautas, and then pick your filling: ground beef, chicken, pastor, adobo chicken, steak, carne asada, bean and cheese, veggie or tilapia. We both went for the steak burritos, and the Husbot ordered two Budweisers (they were on special, and apparently the restaurant only serves the day’s beer specials?). The guy who was taking our order asked if he wanted to keep one on ice, and was amused when Husbot replied that he was going to pound them.

We picked out a table with our drinks and sat down, and our food was served up in about five minutes. During our short wait, we decided that the little house in which the restaurant was located would make an ideal home, with its sweet hardwood floors and adobe airplane bathrooms (the Husbot reported that he was so close to the automatic paper towel dispenser that it kept spitting out paper towels as he, um, completed the transaction), and wondered if we could find something similar for cheap on our apartment search.

I had ordered the verde salsa on the side, which was rated three peppers in heat, while the Husbot picked the mere two-pepper green tomatillo. He questioned whether mine might burn me two times, but it turns out the verde isn’t quite as hot as the warnings imply.

After snarfing down our burritos, the verdict was that the food was fairly inexpensive, pretty tasty, but not quite as spicy as we’d imagined it might be here in the land of Tex-Mex delights. Husbot complained “Not enough meat! Too much rice!” but ultimately agreed that the food was delicious, despite the fact that their hot sauce was a mere 5.8 out of 10 on the hotness scale. “If you’re gonna call it ‘extra hot,’ it’d better still be burning me when we leave,” he advised.

Overall, The Screaming Goat is a good bet if you’re in the neighborhood, a nice alternative to chain taco joints, and according to Austin360 we should’ve tried their beef flautas, which are the tastiest things on the menu and only cost 75 cents on Sundays and Tuesdays.

Supplemental Parking Review: Parking is available behind the restaurant. Warning signs are posted, noting that your car may be damaged, as the lot is tiny and hard to maneuver into or out of—particularly with a behemoth rear-wheel drive truck like ours.