Fried Green Tomatoes with Goat Cheese on Taste of Austin Tuesday

Welcome to my first post for Taste of Austin Tuesday!

It’s February, and I’m learning that means spring is just about to happen here in Central Texas. I’m thinking gardens and picking out seed packets and eventually (hopefully!) harvesting the fruits of my labors.

And that has to include tomatoes, right? And there are bound to be at least a few green ones that need to be picked before the-blast-furnace-that-is-summer here lets loose its wrath, right?

So fried green tomatoes are a natural.

Basic fried tomatoes aren’t hard to make. But I wanted a recipe that was a little special, with a twist on the standard dinner fare version. And I found it on We Are Founding Farmers, a blog that celebrates the family farmer for all they give us, from the food to the wise stewardship of the land.

I tweaked the original recipe a tiny bit, like substituting finely pressed fresh garlic for the garlic powder in the original (never could stand the taste of the powdered stuff!). You might prefer the original, but we loved this version!

It also gave me a chance to mention one of my favorite goat dairies here in Austin (because everyone has a favorite goat dairy, right?)

Founding Farmers Fried GreenTomatoes with Goat Cheese

Makes about 8 slices: 

  • 3 green tomatoes, cored and sliced 3/8” thick
  • 1/2 cup panko and peanut bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup yellow corn meal
  • 1/2 cup dry tempura mix
  • 1/2 cup prepared tempura batter (you will have some left over)
  • 1 teaspoon pressed or very finely chopped garlic
  • 2 teaspoons grated onion
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seed
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup Founding Farmers Green Goddess Dressing (you have to go to one of their D.C. area restaurants to get this, so if you’re in Austin, use a local Green Goddess dressing instead. )
  • 1/2 cup goat cheese, softened*
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

Instructions:   

  • Combine cornmeal and panko in a food processor or blender and blend until fine. Set aside.
  • Prepare tempura batter according to box directions, reserving the 1/2 of dry mix in a separate bowl
  • Mix the garlic and onion into the tempura batter
  • Add 1½” of vegetable frying oil to a large skillet and heat until very hot (preferably 350ºF)
  • Season the tomato slices on both sides with coriander, pepper and salt
  • Bread tomatoes in the following order:  dry tempura mix, prepared tempura batter with onion and garlic, cornmeal/panko mix.
  • Place each breaded tomato slice very carefully into the hot oil (using a splatter screen will reduce the oil splatter).
  • Fry until golden brown on one side.
  • Flip and fry until the other side is golden brown.
  • Remove from oil to a paper bag or to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Portion the green goddess dressing and soft goat cheese into small bowls or ramekins.
  • Arrange tomato slices on a plate and serve with dips.
  • Enjoy!

*The best source for amazing, fresh, delicious goat cheese around Austin is Swede Farm Dairies. Owners Tim and LeeAnn, and their hardworking kids produce some of the best goat cheese and goat milk I have ever had (you gotta try the chocolate milk!!)  The farm isn’t in Austin, but lucky for us, they bring it to local farmers markets every week. Check out their Facebook page, find them at your local farmer’s market (tell them Lindsay from A is For Austin sent you!) and watch for a full post about them soon!

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BurgerTex find proves a tasty (accidental!) discovery

Buger TexWe were heading to Buffalo Exchange for some vintage shopping when it happened.  We realized that we’d forgotten to eat lunch!  Oh, no!  That would NOT do!  But we didn’t want to spend a lot for lunch — the budget is tight and we wanted to save as much as possible for sweaters and boots.

And then we made a wrong turn, and ended up in a parking lot that said “BurgerTex Parking Only”.  Should we move?  Or might this little burger place have something cheap enough for two vegetarians on a budget?  We headed inside, and found a wonderful mix of Korean food and burgers, all at prices perfectly in keeping with thrift shopping.

Veggie burgers, fries and tea ordered, we wandered around, and looked at the place and talked to the manager. (Sadly, we were the only customers inside…but it was almost 3 pm on a weekday, so we probably missed the lunch crowd…I hope!)  The rolls, we learned, were not from a restaurant supply package…they are baked fresh daily right there.  And we had no worries about toppings…there was a topping bar filled with ripe red tomatoes, crisp lettuce, fresh onions and lots of sauces.

Our food was served quickly, accompanied with a pile of crispy, hot fries.  We filled our tea,  topped our burgers and sat down to enjoy our late lunch — and one of the best veggie burgers I’ve had so far in Austin. I do love these kinds of accidents!

I would love to tell you more about the food beyond the veggie burger…especially their Korean speacialties. But the menu at Burger Tex is almost all meat items.  But without the meat-eating member of our family along to test those, we have no way to evaluate the rest!  I guess we’ll just have to go back! (And yes, I will update this review when we do!)

PS…Lunch was great…but no so much the racks at Buffalo Exchange.  Today, we left empty-handed. Oh well! Another excuse to return for shopping…and burgers!

UPCOMING: Austin Kosher Chili Cookoff comes back for 8th year

pot of chiliYes, Texas is known for its chili…but with the pork that’s so often a part local cook-off recipes, people who choose to skip out on that particular beast for religious or health reasons have been kind of left out of the fun.  The pork meant Jews, Muslims and others couldn’t sample cook-off chili offerings.

Not so at the annual JCC Kosher Chili Cookoff! February 10th of this year  will be the 8th  year for the pork-free zone in Texas chili, held at Austin’s JCC campus.

Contestants can choose to enter the meat or the vegetarian division. And to keep everything truly Kosher, the meat division entry fee includes certified Kosher meat, as well as access to all needed cooking utensils.

According to Amy Kritzer, The Austin Jewish Outlook’s food writer,  the event was started by the grandfather of this year’s event chair Jerrod Kogut.   This year’s cook-off also includes arts and crafts, kids activities, and great food, and promises to be a full day of fun for families. 

The competition and the event are open to the public. Entry fees for a meat-chili team of 4 are $250, with meat provided.  Vegetarian teams have an entry fee of $125 (and yes, I will be there sampling those veggie chilis!)

Not ready to cook? Admission the event for everyone else is $12 for adults, $10 for students and free for kids under 4 (or over 65, for the young at heart!)

Sign your team up at the event website, or contact Jerrod for more information at KosherChiliAustin@gmail.com . Registration closes February 1st.

Veggie Heaven is indeed all it claims!

Veggie Heaven Austin TexasFor several months, my daughter has been pushing me to try a place called Veggie Heaven she had seen on one of our downtown forays.  But the time was never right when we were nearby — so we kept putting it off.

That had to be one of my sillier moves since moving to Austin!  It’s not fancy.  It’s not spacious.  But oh is it delicious!!!

First of all, as a vegetarian, I loved that absolutely everything on the menu was open to us.  But even more importantly, I loved that everything the four of us chose was delicious! I had the mock shrimp dish, extra hot (and yes, they believed me when I ordered extra hot!  Thank goodness!)  My daughter chose a kung pao and my husband (usually a meat eater) pronounced his eggplant garden amazing, and we all shared delicious steamed buns, spring rolls and Bubble teas.

And there’s more! The food is made-to-order, so small changes in a dish were no problem. The prices were amazingly low. The service was fast and friendly. And the owner made time to come to our table to chat after I asked about some art work on the wall.

I loved the fact that the customers weren’t all the same, too. When we walked in, there was a large tattooed man in bike leathers, several couples ranging in age from college to retirement, and a number of families of all shapes and sizes.  The diversity made it feel even more welcoming…everyone fits, everyone belongs.

The restaurant is tiny, so I imagine there are times when you have to wait for a table.  Do it. The plate set in front of you will be well worth the time.

I did not see a kids’ menu, but with prices this low, your kids can feast on almost anything on the menu for the average price of a fast food meal! Now that’s a great family deal!

Sure it’s Tex-Mex…but Chuy’s does it so well!

Chuys original location

Okay, before I get a bevy of comments telling me it’s not authentic Mexican food, let me say up front “I know it’s Tex-Mex…but love Tex-Mex!”

I generally don’t write about chain restaurants, but Chuy’s is an exception. Why? Because Chuy’s is a chain that started right here in Austin. And since 1982, they’ve been serving up great big platters of hot, tasty food to Austin and beyond (they even have a location in Florida now!)

I’ve been to three Chuy’s locations so far, but I like the original on Barton Springs Road the best. How could you not love the quirky decor, especially when you read about the $20 decorating budget that inspired the kitschy combination of hub caps and mismatched tiles and velvet paintings!

And then there’s the food. I keep saying I’m going to try something different, but those veggie enchiladas end up in front of me almost every time. Our daughter almost always opts for the custom enchiladas with extra cheese and tangy tomatillo sauce. Lance has been more adventurous, trying the Hatch Chili Chicken, Fajita Beef Burritos and Tortilla Soup, and pronounced it all delicious.

The menu is big enough for most tastes, and the kitchen is more than willing to switch out ingredients to make things vegetarian, pork free or as spicy as your tastes will allow.

When you visit, make sure to find the Elvis Shrine (there’s one at every single location!), and add one or two of their unique t-shirts to your order. Someone at Chuy’s is having way too much fun using the designs to poke fun at popular movies, TV shows and celebrities to pass up the chance to own at least one.

Chuy’s are generally open late and are family friendly. Sadly most locations are not pet friendly.

Playground trumps crayons at Freddie’s Place

Freddie's Place in Austin on Ais4Austin.comRestaurants typically offer younger diners crayons or maybe a page or two of puzzles.  But Freddie’s has a better choice…a whole play structure within the restaurant’s outdoor dining area.

And when we went, the youngest patrons were taking full advantage it while their parents relaxed at nearby tables.  But the charm of Freddie’s Place doesn’t stop with the small fry.

Pets are welcome to dine with their people in the spacious outdoor area, and big bowls of water are provided for the canines as soon as diner’s are seated.  The backyard picnic feel of the space, complete with purple picnic tables and strings of big colorful lights made me feel at home and comfortable as soon as we arrived.  And the witty sayings on signs and waitstaff shirts (one read “Freddie’s: Home of good-looking beer and ice-cold waitresses”) make it fun to look around.  Live music adds the final Austin touch to the place. There’s even an open mic night on Wednesdays, in case you’re feeling like showing off your own talent.

And then there’s the food. Did I forget to mention the food?  Frito Pie with layers of beefy chili, cheese, jalapenos and more. Hand-cut fries.  And a veggie burger made in Freddie’s kitchen from hummus.  (It was delicious!)  The menu is as casual and comforting as the setting — no fancy fixings or complex dishes.  Freddie’s keeps it simple — and from the crowd enjoying dinner on the night we went, simple is just right.

Blue Baker brings a fresh take on bread, sandwiches and breakfast to Austin

The Blue Baker Austin Texas

I was in the mood to try something new for lunch the other day, and I remembered that my husband had brought   home a menu from a new place called “Blue” something opening in the Arboretum.  I’d just come from the gym, so I was hoping for something tasty and healthy…no use undoing all that time on the elliptical, right?

A few minutes later, and I was walking into The Blue Baker.  The first thing I noticed was that it was really, really blue.  From the ceilings to the fixtures to the walls, this place was an oasis of blue-ness.  But the second thing I noticed kept me walking further in — the smell of wonderful, fresh, yeasty breads.  Right there on the counter there were big baskets of sample breads (you have to try the rye!  Trust me on this!)  I skipped the brownie sample (the gym, remember?), but they looked so rich and so delicious….if you try them, please tell me how they were!

I grabbed a menu while I sampled.  Not a lot of vegetarian options, but I decided to ask.  The woman at the order area immediately jumped into action, offering me a veggie sandwich they had at one of their other two locations.  When she mentioned artichokes, spinach, roasted red peppers, goat cheese and a balsamic dressing, I was ready to order.  When she said a price UNDER $6,00, I was thrilled.  She also told me I was free to create my own masterpiece from their menu of veggies, cheeses and freshly baked breads — a definite option for future visits!

The sandwich was amazing.  The veggies were crisp and abundant, the dressing was light but flavorful.  And the bread…no premade dough from central distribution.  This family owned three-location restaurant (the other two are in College Station) believes in making everything from scratch.

After I ate, I talked with Sarah, the Marketing Manager, (and sister-in-law of the owner), about the restaurant.  She told me about their family standard for the freshest ingredients, with all batters and doughs made daily — now I understood the wonderful smells that had greeted me when I walked in!  “This is a family place,” she said. “We brought down some of the staff from College Station to get things started. We want to keep the standards the same for all three places.”

On the way out, I stopped to buy a long baguette, a few bagels and a cookie for my daughter.  All of those were as good as my lunch. 

The Blue Baker also offers hand-crafted pizza, boxed lunches, party platters and office/meeting catering.  They’re open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and they do have WiFi.  Seating is indoors or on the patio out back, and there’s plenty of room for larger groups for lunch or a breakfast meeting.