Thursday, May 20, 2010

creme de la creme

Am loving loving loving Austin! Such a pleasant laid-back place full of fun people. It's all warm and awesome. Everything is EASY here. PARKING is easy (anyone from the DC area?).

Rach and Rich are awesome hosts, for many reasons, but one of them is definitely that they have Fage 2%, one of the greatest yogurt (really, food) products that there is. I've had this breakfast two days in a row and see no reason not to continue.

That's plain yogurt, a plum, and a crumbled Weetabix (Richard is English and always has them, awww!). It is quite delicious.

Yesterday we headed to South Congress Street, where we admired the neighborhood's funky vibe, including the parking lot artwork

Our destination was Jo's, which seems to be an Austin institution.

If the picture strikes you as better/different than usual, it's because Richard is a film/photography guy and was being a backseat photographer, hahaha. He moved my coffee. That sandwich is one of the best I have ever eaten- tomato, basil, and kefir cheese (!) on luscious herby focaccia. Sooooo good. Could only eat half, saved the rest.

Last night we hit up the Alamo draft house to see a movie, my first time at a dinner theater. I ate a surprisingly delicious black bean burger. It was darkity dark and I was not going to be the annoying person with the flash camera. Use your imagination.

That was followed by Drag Queen Bingo, which was quite crowded, so we just sat outside and chatted. I love the outdoorsiness, too. Love love love.

Today we went for a stroll by the "lake".

If that looks like a river it's because it IS. They have strategically dammed the Colorado river, which flows through the city, in various places, and call it lakes. Strange. Also, Guadalupe is apparently three syllables, the last of which is "loop". Anyway, "Lady Bird Lake" is pretty, if not lakey.

Do other people explore grocery stores on vacation? Cause I DO. And Austin is such a cute organic and local and plant loving town that I knew it'd be fun. Yesterday we hit up the famous flagship Austin Whole Foods, which was literally a block long, and kind of overwhelming though. It's funny though, they have every kind of food- yes the usual WF hot bar but also a barbecue joint, a sushi bar, etc. etc. and as a result apparently people are known to schedule first dates there because there is guaranteed to be something to eat for even the pickiest eater.

But then today Rachel took me to Central Market, her choice of grocery shopping places, and it was WAY BETTER than Whole Foods. Same quality cheese and things, same amount of organic-ness, but awesome and neighborhoody and half the price. I had kind of a ridiculous amount of fun there.

They do promotional events periodically with ethnic-themed foods, and right now it's Argentina time. Which meant I got a free sample of pork tenderloin and corn pudding?!

The bread section was also dazzling- bazillions of different kinds, all of which you could sample. The one on the right is their fruity nutty breakfast bread which was basically the best thing I've ever tasted.

We decided to eat in, and Rach and I did a fabulous collaboration. Cooking with other people who love to cook is... fantastic. We decided to let Central Market inspire us for dinner, where I spotted rainbow chard that I'd been lusting over in other peoples' blogs.

And then Rach introduced me to a fabbity fab new technique. We started with a layer of chard in the bottom of the pot...

On the chard went lemon slices and fish, in the form of halibut. Can't remember the last time I had halibut. So so so good.

And then the buuuuuttahhhh.

Bringing the whole thing together in that beautiful way it does was wonderful wonderful wonderful butter. With salt and pepper and dried thyme and green onion and so on.

Baked kinda hot for not too long. All contingent on how thick the filet is. 425 ish for 25 ish minutes?

We pulled the beautiful steamed-up chard bundle out of the oven...

The beautiful finished fish, peeking coyly out from under the chard, sprinkled with a little scallion...

Both being lovers of the fennel-citrus combo, we ended up throwing together a salad with a spinach-arugula blend base; fresh fennel; mushrooms; and grapefruit. Yum yum yum.

Rachel highly recommends a coffee frother for emulsifying vinaigrette. It was good. She knows her tools.

The whole gorgeous plate, where we accidentally but fortuitously had a really pretty pink and green color scheme goin' down...

I know I talked big about my cousin the pastry chef and she did not disappoint- we made us some creme brulee! And I know my so-called desserts involve flax and whole wheat flour and general hippie food and this is NOT ONE OF THOSE DESSERTS. But she and I just had a long, philosophical food talk (we have many) about a job she loathed at a popular upscale chain where she made creme brulee with half and half... they talked up the reduced calories and then served a MASSIVE portion. Oh, America. Make a little ramekin with real cream. Eat it. Be happy. Be satisfied.

For the creme, she got a real vanilla bean (also at Central Market, my favorite place) and used the whole thing- trimmed the tips, scraped it, and threw it in with the cream as well as sugar (3/4 of a cup plus a pinch- real creme brulee is not cloyingly sweet).

Then she separated the eggs, and apparently real pastry chefs just kind of GRAB the egg white when it doesn't feel like parting with the yolk. Alas, I failed to accurately capture this.

Then she whisked together the sugar and egg yolks and, this is key, WHISKED THE WHOLE TIME she was pouring in the sugar. Apparently if you don't do this the sugar burns the egg yolks and you get lumps. Who knew?!

Then she tempered the egg yolks with the hot cream and poured them into the ramekins (they're supposed to look overstuffed; they shrink as they cook). She and I are in agreement that deeper ramekins are better because the custard, not the brulee, is the more delicious element.

Then, a really awesome trick- if you bake the custards with bubbles on top, they stay there and look grody. If you run your blowtorch (she, being a pro, of COURSE has a blowtorch) over the bubbles, they disappear. Please take a moment to notice the awesome vintage poster in the background of Rachel's kitchen.

And then you just bake 'em, in a lowish oven (275-300*) until it doesn't look liquidy when you shake it. Jacques Torres (whose recipe it is) says it's 20 minutes, which Rachel says is a blatant lie, at least if you don't have a convection oven.

They come out lookin' like so...

She only used regular sugar to brulee it (and Richard tried to repeat my use of the word "turbinado" in an English accent, aww! Wow, Richard, I am all kinds of emasculating you in my blog. But the fact that you are reading this, a food blog, is... not the manliest. Hi Richard!)

Rachel searin' away. The process only took a few seconds. Then she threw (literally, threw) on berries while the sugar was still melty and burning so they got a bit seared and sugary. Mmm mm!

Bruleed, berried, and ready for belly

Look at that fine, fine, torch crackin'

Wonderful creamy creaminess oh yes yes yes...

I am having GOOD EATS on this trip!

Finally, Richard the photographer is a goji berry addict. He was angry I hadn't included them in the blog, so I said to feel free to take a shot, and good luck with my shitty camera. This turned out, I reluctantly admit, beautiful. Like a (backwards) Whole Foods ad!

I kid cause I love. Plus Richard does ALL THE DISHES. He is a wonderful person to have around.


Ilana said...

Darlin, there is nothing better than going to a market when you travel. Whether it's to the next town or a country on the other side of the earth. It tells you SO MUCH about where you are.

I haven't been to Texas in years and this post really makes me want to go back! Looks like a great time!!

Sarah @ The Smart Kitchen said...

Would you believe that when I was in Austin, I NEVER made it to Central Market? (I did find barrels of rolled oats at Sprouts, however.)

It is clearly on the top of my list when I move to town in three weeks (!).

Anne @ Food Loving Polar Bear said...

I love exploring grocery stores in a new city :)

Your fish dish looks amazing!!!

Gabriela said...

Oh my gahhhh that creme brulee looks fantastic. I'm pissed at whatever food chain it was for their reduced calorie bull. It's creme brulee, if it's not loaded with fat and cream then it's not the real deal!! Sheesh. Hope you enjoy your time there, happy Friday!!

fittingbackin said...

LOVE that parking lot art - very cool! The "lake" is pretty too. I want that fish - love how you prepared/cooked it!