Hope Market offers freshest produce on “Find it in Austin Friday”

close up of okra in basket

Fresh okra….

Every Sunday from 11 am to 3 pm, Austanites can by-pass the tasteless, mealy textured produced served up by  grocery stores and experience the real thing at the Hope Farmer’s Market located at East 5th and Comal.

The Market began in October 2009, a challenge in a city known for stores selling organic and local produce. But almost four years later, it’s still going and growing, bringing Austin residents a weekly destination where they can connect with the farmers who grow the food instead of just a clerk who’s stocking it.

baskets of persimmons

Ripe persimmons….

Shoppers can find all sorts of fresh vegetable, fruits, nuts and herbs in season. Vendors also sell fresh milk and dairy products (including my favorite goat dairy products from Swede Farm), honey, syrup, eggs, meats and baked goods.

Radishes

Just picked radishes….

And while you shop you can also listen to live music, and maybe snack on some of the treats you just bought. If you go, please bring plenty of reusable bags — remember, no more plastic bags in Austin. Personally, I like using one of those old-lady folding carts, too. Hey, veggies get heavy!

Most of the stands accept EBT/SNAP and WIC benefits, making it easier for people in need of a hand to get the healthy food they really deserve. You can find out more about that at the Hope Farm Stand at the market. Most vendors don’t accept credit or debit cards, so if you’re not using one of the food assistance programs, do bring cash.

Kale

Fresh kale…

The Farmer’s Market is also a great place to take your kids shopping. Once they see all those brightly colored, tempting veggies and fruits you might have an easier time getting them to try them.

pecans in basket

Well-behaved dogs on leashes are welcome, too.

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Smashburger adds a juicy twist to Austin casual dining

Smashburger signWho would have thought it…a near-lifetime vegetarian raving about a restaurant based on meat?  But it’s true. No, I did not cross over to the dark side. Let me explain.

Yesterday I had the privilege to attend a press preview for the newest location for Smashburger, a Colorado-based chain that’s opening its 202nd location at 9900 S. IH 35 in Austin today. Company founder and head cheerleader Tom Ryan was on hand to treat us to samples the restaurant’s signature burgers, chicken sandwiches, and (dear to my vegetarian heart!), in–house made black bean veggie burgers (yeah now you see where my enthusiasm comes from!)

veggie burger at Smashburger in Austin

Well, that and the piles of fragrant rosemary and olive oil fries, the crispy fried jalapeno pepper slices and the super-thin crispy onion rings with a truly addictive dipping sauce.

fries onion rings jalpenos at smashburger

In a world (and city) filled with fast-food burger joints, what makes Smashburger different? We found out as sample after sample came out from the kitchen.

Great big burgers topped with bar-b-que sauce, bacon and cheddar. Chicken sandwiches crispy in a chicken-friend-steak style coating. A cilantro-and-blue-corn-tortilla infused black bean burger (mine was topped with fresh slices of jalapeno and a spicy chipotle mayo on a spicy chipotle bun — I love my spice!)  A grilled chicken sandwich topped with slices of locally-sourced goat cheese and crisp cucumber. Salads and hot dogs, too. The food kept coming, and the reviewers kept eating.

burgers and other sandwichs smashburger

“It’s too good to stop”, one food blogger said. Another added that Smashburger’s chicken sandwiches were the first chicken sandwiches he’d had that actually had flavor. And when we headed into the kitchen to watch the unique “smashing” process in action, another reviewer said the burger tasted more like steak than ordinary hamburger.  And (and this is a shocker!) in a city so well-known for its bar-b-que, several reviewers rated the Smashburger BBQ, Bacon and Cheddar Burger the best they’d ever had.

For those who can’t image a burger without a tall frosty beer, they have you covered.

beer in mug

And for those who crave an ice-cold sweet old-fashioned shake or malt with their meal, yup, they’ve got you covered, too.

Milk shake at smashburger

As a vegetarian, I’ll admit there was a lot I didn’t taste. But as a foodie, I appreciated the incredible attention to detail in everything they do. The buns are toasted on the inside to prevent the juices from making them soggy. The menu in each of their 200+ locations is adjusted to match the tastes and food sources in the local market. The burgers are made from prime Angus beef, and the veggie burger is crafted in-house. Nothing is frozen and thawed.

Tom Ryan of Smashburger

Tom Ryan, who’s prior food masterpieces include the Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust Pizza and the McDonald’s Fruit and Yogurt Parfait seems to have done it again.

Smashburger is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. They have a kids menu and a pet-friendly patio at their I-35 location. More Austin locations are planned, but for now only the Slaughter Lane and New Braunfels locations are open.

(My personal meat-eating partner couldn’t join me yesterday, so thank you to all my fellow reviewers for sharing your experiences with the meat!)

Baskets waiting for burgers

Vegetarian Tortilla Soup on Taste of Austin Tuesday

Vegetable Tortilla Soup

When we moved to Austin, I started seeing Tortilla Soup on menus all over the place. It sounded amazing, and when friends ordered it, it looked even better. But as a vegetarian, the chicken broth and chunks of meat kept it off my table.

But not one to be discouraged, I decided to experiment and create my own version. Just without the meat. And I’m happy to say, with endorsement from my resident meat-eater, I think I’ve finally got it right! The recipe is at the bottom of this post. But first, here’s the process.

I started the soup by making a pot of brown rice, and setting that aside to steam. I also put some cooked black beans into a pot to warm with some crushed garlic and lime juice.  You can use beans you’ve cooked from scratch, or use plain, unseasoned canned black beans. Your choice.

beans and rice for soup

The soup itself starts with coarsely chopped peppers and onion and several whole cloves of garlic, sautéed in extra virgin olive oil.

peppers and onions cooking

To that I added my seasonings…cumin, black pepper, oregano and cayenne pepper. Once they had sautéed for a couple of minutes, I stirred in a can of diced tomatoes.

bowl of diced tomatoesNext came the broth. I used a Kosher vegetarian broth mix that has a chicken-style flavor, but you could use your favorite homemade or commercial broth.

vegetable broth mixAnd then the Morningstar Farms Meal Starter strips and a can of yellow and white corn.

morningstar farms vegetarian meal starter strips

Then in went some fresh cilantro.

cilantro

 I let that all simmer together for about a half an hour. It smelled heavenly!

When the soup was almost done, I sliced a couple of fresh, ripe avocados, and drizzled them with lime juice.

Avocado halves

I chopped a whole bunch of fresh cilantro (never can get enough!  I love cilantro!)

fresh cilantro

And then it was ready to assemble. I like to use large shallow soup bowls for this. First I added a scoop of rice, then topped it with a tumble of black beans. Soup was ladled into the bowl and then the whole dish was dressed with avocado and cilantro.

IMAG1243

I put the tortilla chips on the table for everyone to garnish their own dish (soggy tortillas are nasty!) I also put out a selection of hot sauces for people like me who like a little extra kick. And finally, I had my very own Austin-style, vegetarian-friendly Tortilla Soup!

Ready for your own? Here’s the recipe:

Vegetarian Tortillia Soup

Makes 4 generous servings or 6 side servings

2 cups cooked brown rice, warm
2 cups cooked black beans
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large green peppers, coarsely chopped
2 large yellow (not sweet) onions, coarsely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled, but not crushed
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, plain or seasoned
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp cayanne pepper (or more to taste)
Generous amount of fresh ground pepper (at least 5 or 6 turns of the grinder)
8 cups chicken-style vegetable broth
15 ounce can white and yellow corn
1 package Morning Star Farms Meal Starter Chik’n Strips
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 large ripe avocados, halved then sliced
2-3 tablespoons lime juice
Cilantro for garnish
Tortilla chips or strips
Hot sauce for the table (optional)

Put the black beans in a pot on low.  Add the garlic, lime juice and water, and cover. Allow to warm slowly, stirring once or twice while cooking.

In a large, heavy bottom pot, add olive oil, peppers, onions and whole garlic cloves. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until onions just start to become translucent and peppers are slightly softened.

Add cumin, oregano, black pepper and cayanne and stir to coat vegetables. Cook for one minute.

Add canned tomatoes, broth, Chik’n Strips, chopped cilantro and corn. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Scoop rice into a ball at one side of the soup bowl. Top with drained black beans. Scoop soup into bowls but not over top of rice and beans. Garnish with avocado slices and cilantro. Pass tortilla chips and hot sauce at the table. Yum!