County Line delights with food…and turtles?

County Line
It’s bound to happen when you live in Austin. Company comes from out of town, and they want bar-b-que. As in piles of the ribs Austin is so famous for. But where can a vegetarian take someone for ribs…and still eat something beside a side salad and rolls?

The answer is County Line on the Lake. For our guest, the menu had an assortment of mouthwatering ribs, brisket and sausages. For me, a perfectly prepared vegetarian kabob. Add the housemade bread, plus a couple of sides and everyone at the table was happy and very full.

But as good as the food was, the high point of our County Line meal was the turtles. No, not on the menu! In the river!

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This location of County Line is on Bull Creek, a tributary to Lake Austin, which means the view from the patio seating is beautiful.

06-DSC04703My husband had been there before, so he knew there was something beside the view that I would love. A few steps down from the patio, to the edge of the river and I saw what. The water was FULL of turtles. Hundreds of turtles, of all different kinds. Big ones and tiny ones the size of silver dollar.

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And there was turtle food, too. For .25, you could fill a cup with turtle food and sit down at the water’s edge and feed the turtles!

07-DSC04706I’m such a little kid wihen it comes to things like this. And I loved every second of it. A beautiful setting, delicious food, and turtles!

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The County Line on the Lake also has an extensive children’s menu, so kids can enjoy lunch or dinner and feeding the turtles, too. The lovely patio on the river makes it a wonderful choice for a date night, too.

The Specs

5204 FM 2222
Austin, Texas 78731
(512) 346-3664

http://www.countyline.com/CountyLineLake.html

Sun-Mon 11 am – 9 pm
Tues-Thur 11 am – 9:30 pm
Fri-Sat 11 am – 10 pm

 

County Line on the Lake on Urbanspoon

Maoz is vegetarian heaven — and Kosher to boot!

Maoz Falafel sign black and whiteDid you ever find one of those restaurants that looks so simple that you don’t expect much, only to find fresh ingredients and tons of flavor? That was my experience with Maoz.

We were meeting there for a planning session for the Lone Star Vegetarian Chili Cook Off. The simple store front in a strip mall setting at the back of the Triangle (Lamar and Guadalupe) looked perfectly ordinary.

Maoz Austin Texas

 

When we stepped inside, I started to think I might have been wrong. In front of me was a falafel topping bar like I hadn’t seen since I feasted at a tiny, incredibly delicious place in Adams Morgan (a lesser-known area of D.C. filled with great ethnic food and I-could-get-lost-in-here bookshops.)

Toppings bar at Moaz

The drooling started when I saw this!

There are boards to help the Moaz beginner order…

order board at MoazAnd more to help you pick the right size…

How big a meal at Moaz

Go for the big one. Seriously!

The food at Maoz is vegetarian (a big plus for me!) and it’s even certified Kosher (another plus for us and for anyone who keeps Kosher, Halal or just wants a guarantee that the “Vegetarian Lentil Soup” on the menu isn’t made with chicken broth!)

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There’s inside and outside seating, so Maoz is dog-friendly, too. They even brought out a falafel ball for my dog, saying all their guests should eat well!

There’s only one thing wrong with my visit….my decked out falafel looked so amazing that I ate it — all of it — before I remembered that I was supposed to take a picture of the food for my blog!  Oops!

Oh, no wait!  That means I have an excuse to go back soon for another!  OK, not on purpose at all…I get to go back for more. So watch this space for an update. Maybe this weekend….?

The specs:

Maoz Austin
4601 N. Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78751
Tel: 512.323.2259

Hours
Monday – Thursday 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM
Friday 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Saturday 12:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Sunday 12:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Maoz on Urbanspoon

Austin Diner rocks it for breakfast

Austin DinerIt’s cute. It’s kitschy. And it’s another diner here in Austin!

Those we’re my thoughts when we walked in the Austin Diner over the weekend. I immediately fell in love with the collections of vintage mixers and other kitchen ware from the 50’s and 60’s.

classic mixers

Then the waitress came over, and welcomed us to this adorable place. She was friendly — and once we told her it was our first visit, she her smile got even bigger. We felt like guests, instead of just customers!

The menu was just as inviting. Lots of delicious choices for our breakfast — and even after we had made our choices, we kept looking at the options for a later lunch or dinner visit, if the food was good.

Austin Diner insideIt wasn’t long until that “if the food was good” turned into “Oh yeah, the food is good!” I ordered Migas — my favorite food in Austin. And I wasn’t disappointed! The mixture was delicious, and it was topped with just enough queso.

Others in our group opted for pancakes, eggs, sausages and other breakfast classics. And by the time we left, every plate on the table was empty.  In fact, we were already talking about coming back again for the next weekend brunch. The diner has lots of vegetarian choices, in addition to classic diner food like chicken and dumplings. It’s a great choice for families, too. There’s a very limited, partial menu online, but the complete menu has a lot more choices.

I’m still in search of that real 24-hour diner somewhere in the Austin area (gotta know I can fill my eggs, potato and toast craving at 2 a.m.!), but the daytime diners I’m finding, like Austin Diner, are doing a good job of filling the void at breakfast time.

Lasagna Meets My Favorite Dip (Taste of Austin Tuesday)

2014-01-022I was browsing Pinterest this morning, when I spotted what I knew HAD to be my supper tonight. It was a recipe from blogger Megan Brewer for Spinach and Artichoke Lasagna Bundles.

Lasagna AND Spinach-Artichoke Dip?  Oh, yeah! I’m there!

It had a lot of ingredients, but it sounded so incredibly delicious I had to try it.

Usually when I try a completely new recipe, I try to follow the directions pretty much as written. But for this one, I had to make one change. The recipe called for old-fashioned lasagna noodles, but all I had in my pantry were the oven-ready ones. I stopped at the store, but unless I wanted to pay for fancy imports ($5.99 for noodles? I think not!), all they had were the oven-ready, too.  So I adapted — the roll up directions became a stack. I also added some delicious zucchini and some fresh basil from my herb garden.

thin sliced zucchini

The result? Delicious!  Certainly messier than the recipe that inspired me…but the taste was all there, just as I imagined when I read the recipe.

So here’s my take on Megan’s recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 2 zucchini, scrubbed and sliced thin, long ways
  • 2 large cloves garlic, pressed

heads of garlic

  • 1 teaspoon dried basil or 6 fresh basil leaves, minced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced small

chopped onion

  • 4 cups chopped spinach leaves (fresh, not frozen)
  • 1 cup chopped artichoke hearts (I used marinated…next time, I would use plain ones in olive oil or water)
  • 1 8 oz package cream cheese

Fire-roasted tomatoes

  • 1 can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes, strained, with the liquid reserved
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Olive oil

  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan/Romano cheese, blend
  • 8 oven-ready lasagna sheets

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375F
  • Lightly grease a large glass baking pan with olive oil
  • Place 4 lasagna sheets in the bottom of the baking pan
  • Set aside
  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pan.
  • Add zucchini, garlic and basil and saute for 3-4 minutes until tender
  • Remove cooked zucchini from pan, and keep warm on a plate
  • Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a large pan, along with the diced onions.
  • Cook the onions until they become translucent.
  • Add the spinach and artichoke hearts and cook them until the spinach leaves shrink down and become limp
  • Add the salt, pepper, and 3 cloves of garlic, and toss the spinach-artichoke mix together.
  • Strain off any excess liquid, then add the cream cheese and stir until it has fully melted into the spinach mixture.
  • Place 1-2 thin slices of zucchini on each lasagna noodle
  • Top each with one-quarter of the spinach-artichoke mixture
  • Add a second sheet of lasagna on top of each stack
  • Top each row with 1/4 of strained diced tomatoes and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese
  • Pour the reserved tomato juice around the edges of the noodle stacks
  • Cover the lasagna with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the foil, add additional cheese and broil the top of the dish for an additional  2-3 minutes or until the cheese browns, bubbles and melts.

Serve hot, with a salad and crispy bread.

Baked Spinach-Artichoke Lasagna

Messy, yes. But oh so delicious!!!

Would I make these again? In a heart beat! My family loved it, too. I made a double recipe, and it’s all gone! But next time, I’ll wait until I can find regular lasagna noodles so I can roll them up. Thanks, Pinterest…and thanks Megan!

Paisano’s brings homemade Italian to Austin! Finally!

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Don’t get me wrong. ..I love Mexican food and Indian food and all the wonderful vegetarian choices in Austin.  But without really good, homecooked style Italian,  there was just something missing.

But a random choice to stop at Paisano’s in Northwest Austin the other night changed that. Here, tucked in among chain fast food places, was a real, honest-to-goodness family run Italian restaurant.  The smell alone had be hooked….but then I took my first bite.

The creamy, rich pomodoro sauce and the rich ricotta filled tortellini tasted like someone’s Italian grandmother had just finished cooking.  The texture and seasoning were perfect! My husband’s lasagna was tall and stuffed with cheeses, then dressed in an all-beef meat sauce. We were both thrilled to find this kind of delicious here in Austin! Sorry Olive Garden…you have been replaced!

No, this is not a classic Italian restaurant inside. The lighting is bright, and there wasn’t any Italian music playing. Paisano’s isn’t a fancy, date-night destination. But the lack of ambience is a small price to pay for the flavors. As far as we’re concerned, that’s a trade we’re happy to make!

Our next visit will probably be a chance to try their pizzas. ..if they’re as good as the pasta,  expect an update to this post!

(PS..sorry for the bad photo. ..my phone wasn’t cooperating,  so I’ll have to go back and take some better shots soon! )

Vegetarian Chili Rules on Taste of Austin Tuesday

Lone Star Vegetarian Chili CookoffIt’s this Sunday, it’s in Austin and it promises to once again take Texas chili traditions to a higher, vegan level.

What is it? It’s the 25th Annual Lone Star Vegetarian Chili Cook-off.  Yup, here in the land of ribs and brisket, you’ll find the longest running vegetarian chili cook-off in the U.S.

The annual celebration of all things vegan and spicy includes chili tasting, music, kids activities and more. Whole Foods is hosting beer sales on site, so you even can grab a cold one to wash down your favorite chili (or put out the fire on a particularly hot one!)

Teams of chili chefs come from all over Texas to compete for the title of best vegetarian chili in one of two categories. Chili masters can also take home a People’s Choice Award for the crowd’s favourite bowl of spicy goodness.

The cook-off started in 1989 as the brainchild of Shirley Wilkes-Johnson, with help from the  founders of the San Antonio Vegetarian Society, the South Texas Vegetarian Society (in Brazoria County, 60 miles south of Houston), the Austin Vegetarian Society, and the Vegetarian Society of Houston. For years, the event traveled around Texas, with cook-offs attracting vegetarians and open-minded omnivores from all over the Lone Star State. Finally, the annual cookoff settled in Austin, where it has grown and flourished, attracting up to a 1,000 hungry chili-lovers for the one-day event.

A quarter of a century after its founding, the cook-off is still going strong. And this year’s event promises to be one of the best. The new location in the green space adjacent to the Whole Foods on West William Cannon in South Austin offers easy access, free parking and lots of space for the cook-off, vendors, the kids’ area and the live music stage.  Admission to the event is $10 for adults or teens, $7 for children age 6-12, seniors, veterans and college students (with current college ID), and includes lots of delicious chili.

They’re also offering Family Packs for $25, good for a family of up to four (one of which must be a child age 12 or under).

If you’d like to help this all-volunteer event to be an even bigger success, you can volunteer and earn free admission and other goodies. The volunteer deadline is Friday, Nov. 8th, so be sure to sign up to lend your support to this Texas tradition.

(And yes, I do know this “Taste of Austin Tuesday” didn’t show up until Wednesday. Just blame it on The Doctor….time can be slippery sometimes!)

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.

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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!