Good Eats in Austin

This coming Friday is the BlogHer Food Conference in Austin. There are a lot of folks coming in from all parts, so I thought I'd put together a short list of some good places to eat around town. The list is by no means exhaustive and simply includes places that I enjoy or have been wanting to check out.


El Primo (2101 S. First St.) good, simple and inexpensive breakfast tacos. The way it should be.
Pop into Once Over for a cup of coffee and you've got a great portable breakfast!

Veracruz Tacos (1704 E. Cesar Chavez) I haven't actually tried them, but I hear they make a great breakfast taco.

SFC Farmers' Market Downtown (400 W. Guadalupe) when I travel I love to visit the local farmers' market if there's one around, so I had to share one of ours! You can find a number of breakfast options at the market. My recommendations? Check out Dai Due, Tacodeli or Gardener's Feast/Tamale Addiction. You can't go wrong with either one.

24 Hour Diner  (600 N. Lamar) traditional breakfast menu like pancakes, waffles and hash. They also have a good gluten free menu.

Chuy's Panaderia (801 E. William Cannon) I had to throw this one in, because sometimes all you want in the morning is some good Mexican sweet bread and a cup of coffee (or tea in my case).


This list is a bit harder to put together, because there are quite a few good spots in town.

Elizabeth Street Cafe (1501 S. First) good Vietnamese and lovely French pastries. I don't know that it's authentically Vietnamese, but I really enjoy eating here any time of day. Maybe it's the decor, maybe it's the macarons, but I go there time and time again.

Kome (4917 Airport Blvd.) authentic home-style Japanese cooking. I go for the sushi and noodle bowls. Simple, good food.

Hopdoddy (1400 S. Congress) one of my favorite burger places in town. Most folks would call these gourmet burgers, but what keeps me going back is their Classic Burger and french fries. Go figure!

Cenote (1010 E. Cesar Chavez) old East Austin home converted into a comfy cafe. Good coffee, sandwiches and baked treats from local bakeries like Quack's. 

Franklin's BBQ (900 E. 11th St.) if you don't mind waiting in line for 2 hours to get your lunch, then head to Franklin's for some of the tastiest brisket in town. Pick up a breakfast taco and coffee to hold you over!


Sway (1417 S. First St.) go for the food and ambience, and definitely stay for the desserts. Pastry chef Laura Sawicki creates wonderful desserts using traditional and less than traditional foods. Kabocha squash ganache or miso white chocolate panna cotta are just a few of her creations.

Eastside Kings (various locations; partial to Liberty Bar) 3 food trucks and one brick and mortar location make up Eastside Kings. It's co-owned by Paul Qui winner of Top Chef Season 9 and an all around Austin favorite. The Thai Chicken Karaage, fried brussels sprout salad and beet home fries are my go to menu items.

Barley Swine (2024 S. Lamar Blvd.) small space that serves small plates of great locally sourced food. The menu varies from month to month, which is something I appreciate. I'm always amazed at some of the flavor combinations and how they manage to make them work so well together.

El Naranjo (85 Rainey St.) traditional Mexican food from the state of Oaxaca. I've never been here, but overall I read good things about their food. It is on the pricier side, so if you want cheap Mexican this may not be the place for you. Head into East Austin for good and inexpensive Mexican food.

Whip-In (1950 IH 35 South) from their website...namaste and howdy y'all. And, that's exactly what you'll find at this gastropub serving up Indian comfort food and over 70 beers on tap.


Easy Tiger (709 E. Sixth St.) beer garden and bakehouse located on famous dirty 6th! Grab a pint, a giant pretzel and beer cheese.

Contigo (2027 Anchor Ln.) we come here for the outdoor patio and drinks. Ok, and maybe the crispy green beans.

Rainey Street (uh, Rainey St.) you'll find a stretch of old houses that have been converted into bars. Some offer food or house food trucks. It's a place that you can bar hop and grab a decent bite to eat.


Mango Coconut Milk Ice Cream

Hello my name is Claudia and I love ice cream. I mean it. I. Love. Ice. Cream.

It's the perfect sweet treat, only rivaled by the cookie. And, the chocolate croissant. And, maybe brownies. Ok, so my name is Claudia and I love sweets. 

But, it's true. I do love ice cream. It's cool, creamy, rich and the perfect vehicle for lots of flavors. Unfortunately ice cream, dairy ice cream to be exact, doesn't really love me. I'm not going to get into it right now, but I try to stay away from dairy as much as possible. Because of that, we've switched to buying dairy free ice cream. We've tried quite a few from those made with hemp milk to almond milk. We've settled on ice creams made with coconut milk as our favorites. 

Our quest to find the next best thing to dairy ice cream has led us to buy quite a few pints of not so cheap coconut milk ice cream. I finally broke down and bought an ice cream maker to make my own creamy creations and hopefully save us some money. While we doubt it will truly save us money, it sure has opened the door to more flavors! 

Enter this mango coconut milk ice cream. 

The idea actually came from my mom. She came over one night and tried my first batch of homemade ice cream. It was this tasty chai coconut ice cream from Cookie and Kate. She loved it and immediately started dreaming of other flavors. She imagined mango would be quite good and so I promised to make it next. Needless to say she was right. Mom really does know best!

I used this recipe and subbed all milk and cream for coconut milk, omitted the lemon juice and skipped the corn syrup. I also used fresh mangos. The result is a rich, lush mango ice cream with a hint of coconut. Definitely one that will be made again and again.

I'm so happy we finally got an ice cream maker. We're already dreaming of the next flavor. I'm imagining a lemongrass ginger. Nathan is pushing for coffee ice cream. Whatever it is, I hope it's as good as this one. 

Mango Coconut Milk Ice Cream

1 1/4 cup of fresh mango (I used 3 small Ataulfo mangoes)
2 1/4 cups coconut milk
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Start by removing the pulp from the mango. You can find a good tutorial on how to cut a mango here.

Place fresh mango and one cup of coconut milk in a blender. Blend until smooth and set aside. 

Place remaining 1 1/4 cup of coconut milk in a heavy saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium low heat. Do not let it boil. 

While milk is heating up, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and pinch of salt. Whisk until yolks are just pale yellow. 

Once coconut milk is hot, whisk in half a cup of milk into egg yolk mixture. Pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan and continuing cooking over a low flame for 8-10 minutes. The mixture should coat the back of a spoon when ready.* Again, do not let it boil. 

Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the vanilla and mango puree until well combined.

Pass the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. If the mixture is still warm let it come to room temperature. Otherwise, cover the bowl and place in the fridge to chill overnight. 

Once chilled you can place it in your ice cream maker and follow your models instructions for making ice cream.

*I always run my finger along the back of the spoon and if the mixture doesn't run and leaves a clear path on the spoon it's ready.


In the Garden: May

I've tried to start this post on three separate occasion already. I've been easily distracted by well, nothing. I just wasn't sure how to start it, so I'm just jumping in!

May in the garden has been good. The tomato and tomatillo plants are doing their thing and making me smile. All but one of my tomato plants has fruit on them at this point, though nothing is ripe and ready. I visit them everyday, sometimes twice a day looking for a sign of that first blush of red. I stare at them and practically will them to turn red. I'm pretty sure my neighbors think I'm weird. Oh well. I'll have tomatoes and they won't. Well, I'm assuming they don't. I haven't been nosy enough to stare into their backyard recently. My husband frowns upon me doing these things. Something about not being rude? Isn't that the whole reason to have neighbors though? Not the be rude part, but the peering into their yards part.

Our tomatillo plants are also being very productive and I think we'll have our first tomatillo ready to harvest soon. Very excited about this. I was worried about the plants for a bit, because we had some ninja insect leaving behind holes in the leaves. I suspect it was a caterpillar, but I can't say for sure. The only critter I found was this guy.

I found him under a leaf and put him in a glass jar, so I could take him by the local plant nursery for the bug folks to check out. Turns out they had never seen anything like him/her before. They figured it was a caterpillar of sorts and the poor thing might have been infested with parasites. They put it under a microscope and then projected the image onto their computer. They are not fooling around. I was hesitant to view it under the microscope, but I gathered up the courage to see it. Gross and sad. One of the bug folks said we should have interspecies compassion. I immediately felt guilty. Poor thing. But sorry, you can't have my tomatillos. Needless to say I left it at the nursery, because I don't want it in my garden and the bug folks were completely enthralled by my mutant friend.

Besides the tomatillo and tomatoes, everything else is looking good. Herbs are going gangbusters. Carrots and beets are holding on and the squash is coming along. My only concern at this point are our three eggplants. Eggplants thrive on heat, but we've had a cooler spring this year in Texas. I am definitely not complaining. It actually felt like we had a spring folks! Like over a couple of months, not just a few weeks of kind of nice weather. My eggplant on the other hand may not have appreciated the cooler temps so much and may be a little stunted. Temperatures have started to creep into the 90s this past week, so we'll see how they fair. 

One more thing. I planted a lot of basil. Like a lot. I may have gone crazy with the basil seeds. Whether I get a lot of basil is a different story. I'll keep you posted.


Simple French Toast

Salve: : a remedial or soothing influence; something that soothes or heals.

That's what cooking does for me. It soothes me. It heals me. It's simple and honest. It's what I turn to time and time again. When life is good and when it's bumpy. 

Life continues to have it's ups and downs for me as I settle into its current reality. I don't really know how to describe it, because it just is what it is. It's not great, but it's not bad either. Even that description doesn't sound right. Oh well.

I knew I needed to cook this morning, not in the "because we need to eat" way, but in the soothing way. I decided to make french toast this morning for Nathan and me. I had some french bread leftover from Friday's night get together with some dear friends I've made in the past year. (There's another balm*) I'm embarrassed to say this, but I actually looked up a recipe because it's been years since I made french toast. I turned to the Joy of Cooking (appropriate title) and it didn't let me down. 

French Toast
from the Joy of Cooking

This is a halved version of the original recipe. 

1/3 cup milk (I used almond milk)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon of maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt (I used a pinch)
Pinch of cinnamon (my own addition and optional)
4 slices of french bread or white sandwich bread
Butter (or Earth Balance Buttery spread)

Heat a skillet or cast-iron pan over medium-low heat.

In a shallow bowl combine the first six ingredients and whisk until well incorporated.

Next, dip both sides of the bread into the egg mixture. You want to soak them, but not too much or they'll fall apart. 

Butter the skillet and then place the bread on the skillet. Brown each side until golden brown and serve hot sprinkled with powdered sugar, maple syrup and fresh fruit. I took some frozen raspberries and popped them in the microwave for about 2 minutes until they got warm and fell apart. 

*Good friendships. I've always treasured them, but I'm not always the best about making room for them. I'm learning and have some good friends to remind me and set an example. 


As Easy As Riding A Bike

At the behest of a good friend of mine, I'm posting today even though I don't have a recipe to share. Instead spurred by a recent post of hers I'm going to share a story about our trip to Paris last year.

Back in September, I met my husband in Europe after he had been working overseas for 2 1/2 months. We met in Germany and flew to Paris together for 2 glorious weeks of good food. I could tell you about all the amazing cheese we ate.

Or the amazing manicured gardens we visited.

Or the ridiculous pastries and sweets we ate on a daily basis.

Or even the amazing open air markets we visited and the food we ate from the markets.

Instead, spurred by this same friend and her recounting of a recent bicycle adventure, I'm going to share my own bicycle comedy.

But. Did I mention the cheese?

Like anyone who has watched Amelie and dreamed of going to Paris, I had visions of what I wanted to do (and of course eat) in Paris. One of the "to do" items on my list. Ride a Velib in the City of Lights. Easy enough. So I thought.

My first encounter using a Velib in Paris was less than romantic and more of a matter of not wanting to walk the mile to Sacre Coeur. We had done a lot of walking in the previous days and I thought it would be easier. Overall, it was and while I didn't feel quite as comfortable on the bike as my cycling husband, I did ok. Well, at least that's how I remember it.

The second time we used the Velib system, we picked up bikes near Galeries Lafayette. For those of you unfamiliar with Paris, this is a bustling area of the city with lots of pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Red flag number one. 

Anyhow, we picked up the bikes and headed straight into the bustle of midday traffic. My husband's only request of me was to follow him. Simple enough I thought, since he's a seasoned cyclist and can maneuver through traffic well. Red flag number two.

Our destination was the Left Bank, so we planned on cutting through the Louvre and crossing at Pont du Carrousel. Red flag three.

I followed my husband diligently for about a 1/4 mile, after which I became so enchanted by the fact that I was in Paris. On a bike. Passing the Louvre. Folks it doesn't get much better than that. And in fact, it didn't. 

Like I mentioned, I was feeling pretty good about myself after that first 1/4 mile and was enjoying the scenery all around. I somehow managed to get beside my husband as we approached the Louvre and were getting ready to cross the Seine. As we started to cross the Seine I started to pull away from my husband and into the middle of traffic. Literally. Instead of riding along on the farthest right lane, I had managed to ride myself across 2 lanes of traffic (if you can call them lanes) and found myself amongst an angry motorbike and a honking car. There could have possibly been lots more honking, but at this point I was fearing for my life and couldn't tell you with any certainty.

In the blink of an eye, I was jarred from my perfect Paris ride and couldn't figure out how to get back into the correct lane. So, I did what any sane, scared person would do. I rode right back across two lanes of traffic. Once on across and on the sidewalk, I promptly jumped off and got the ugliest stare from mon ami. In all fairness, he gave me more of a "what were you thinking you could have gotten yourself killed" worried stare. 

Needless to say we didn't ride any more that day and walked the rest of the way. 

Yet, somehow I managed to convince myself and, more importantly, my husband that we should do it again two days later. I rode white-knuckled all the way and that my friends was the last time we rode in Paris.

I don't know if we'll do it again the next time we find ourselves in Paris, but we'll always have that memory. It may not be the Amelie version, but it's my version. All mine.

Me after our last ride in Paris with a "never again" smile.


Chocolate Chip Cookies

To know me is to know that I can be an indecisive person. I will over analyze and over think just about anything if you give me a chance. From the big things in life to the little things, I will waver up until the last moment. But, if there's one thing in life I'm certain about it's my favorite cookie.

Chocolate Chip. No doubt about it.

It's a classic cookie with simple ingredients and heartwarming, soul-satisfying flavors that no cookie can compete. Well, at least in my opinion.

Like everyone out there who loves a good chocolate chip cookie, I've got one or two recipes that I return to time and time again. There's the now famous New York Times recipe, Kim Boyce's recipe using whole wheat flour, and of course my mother-in-law's recipe (a family classic). But, like a true indecisive, I like to try out new recipes wondering if it just might be a bit better.

In the case of this particular recipe, I was looking for something gluten free. I don't have a gluten allergy or even a sensitivity for that matter. I just like baking with different flours, because of the taste they impart. And, we try to be conscious of how much gluten we eat. It's a thing we do. So, I searched for recipes that included two flours I had on hand. Almond flour and coconut flour. I didn't come up with much that included both, so I tweaked a recipe that I thought had potential.

The original recipe uses only almond flour, but in my experience this tends to create a cookie that's a bit dense. I knew coconut flour would add some lightness, because it absorbs moisture fairly well and creates some crumb. The minor changes worked and this chocolate chip loving lady is satisfied.

Well, for now at least.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Meaningful Eats

3/4 cup Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread
3/4 cup brown sugar 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups almond flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
1 1/4 cups chocolate chips of choice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and brown sugar. Beat on medium speed until well combined, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure they are thoroughly combined between each addition. Add vanilla and mix until combined.

Add the baking powder, baking soda and salt to batter and mix. Add the almond flour, one cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add in the coconut flour and mix well. Fold in the chocolate chips with a wooden spoon and stir until thoroughly combined.

Shape dough into tablespoon rounds and place on prepared baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Press down gently on each round to flatten slightly. Bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on the level of doneness you prefer. Remove from the oven and place cookies on a wire rack to cool. Be careful as you transfer the cookies to the wire rack as they are soft straight from the oven. They will firm up as they cool.


Our garden

When I imagined having a home of our own one day I always imagined having a garden. I imagined going out into the garden and cutting fresh herbs for that's night dinner or picking sweet vine ripened tomatoes to be eaten simply with a sprinkling of salt.

Two years ago we bought our first house and one of the first things we did was build a garden. Some of the first things we planted were broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, tatsoi and swiss chard. Three days later a January frost settled in for four days. We lost almost half of the plants that I had so lovingly planted just days before. That was followed by a record number of 100 days straight of 100 degree plus temperatures. The tomatoes that I had dreamed of alluded me. I can't remember if I planted anything that fall, because I was feeling a bit disillusioned about gardening (as you can imagine). But my husband, ever the encourager, told me we were learning and we would keep trying. Luckily,  I listened to him and we planted again the following spring. The garden produced a bounty of carrots and greens that still brings a smile to my face. That was followed by another sweltering summer, but this time we faired better with our tomatoes. We enjoyed them a number of ways. My favorite being straight off the vine.

We took it a bit easier this fall and decided to let the garden rest. I planted a few onions, some garlic, carrots and beets late last year. Things are coming along nicely and I'm looking forward to pulling a few carrots from the ground in a couple of months. Of course, I've already got tomatoes on my mind. I've got a smile on my face just thinking about it.


Inspiration: 101 Cookbooks

I meant to write up a recipe for a sweet potato soup today last week, but I just didn't get around to it. I got distracted/lazy. I'll be sure to get that up this week, because it was very good ifidosaysomself. So, in lieu of that post I thought I'd show some blog love to a blogger that I admire for her creativity both in the kitchen and in life. She inspires me to look at simple ingredients differently and to play around with flavors.

101 Cookbooks is written by the talented Heidi Swanson who is based in San Francisco. Her recipes are simple, healthy and honest food. What always wows me is how she incorporates and plays with flavors. Stuff that you would never think of putting together. I mean it's not rocket science, but sometimes trying to cook an easy meal feels like it.

Take for example her Red Lentil Soup. A seven ingredient (six if you're me) list, none of which scream exotic or amazing. Why did I make it then? A friend who has good taste and loves to cook recommended it to me, so I figured why not. Well, I'm glad I did!

The soup itself is basic and a cinch to prepare. What makes it special are the little extras she suggests as toppings. Almonds, black cured olives, feta. Yes please to all of them (well maybe not the dairy for me)! Those toppings take a humble soup of brown rice and red lentils and make it so much better. And if you happen to have a bottle of truffle oil that someone was kind enough to gift to you, well then swirl that in too.

Some of my other favorites:

Simple Tomato Soup
Baked Quinoa Patties
Orange and Oat Scones
Nikki's Healthy Cookies

If you're looking for simple food with flair then be sure to visit 101 Cookbooks!


Berry Avocado Smoothie

Can I share a secret with you? Promise not to tell anyone?

I am not a breakfast person.

There I said it. Now the whole world knows.

I eat breakfast only because I hear it's the right thing to do and because if I don't my stomach will remind me to eat something. Now, it's not that I don't like breakfast foods. It's just that most breakfast foods tend to require chewing. I'm so not into chewing my food in the mornings. Too weird?

To remedy the fact that I need/should eat breakfast I've become best friends with my blender. I love my blender, because with it I can make endless variations of smoothies. I looooove smoothies. No chewing necessary. Just drink up!

One of my favorite, if not favorite, smoothies is a Raw Chocolate Shake (sans the maple syrup). Since I limit my dairy intake, I can't have the yummy creamy chocolate ice cream with banana malted shakes I use to enjoy on a regular basis. The Raw Chocolate Shake has taken its place and I feel like I'm having a treat when I blend one up. I would love to have it every morning for breakfast, but I've come to realize that it's good to change things up. Keep life interesting ya know!

So from time to time I'll whip up a smoothie with mixed berries and avocado! Yup, folks an avocado. It totally gives it that creamy thick consistency. And no, it doesn't taste like avocado. Well, at least I don't think so. Give it a whirl folks. It's total health food in a glass! No chewing necessary.

Berry Avocado Smoothie
Serves 1

1/2 cup frozen raspberries
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 small avocado
1 tbsp ground flax seeds
2 cups almond milk (or any non-dairy milk alternative)
*optional sweeten to taste with honey or stevia if needed (sometimes the berries are not sweet enough)

Place all ingredients in blender and blend till smooth. Serve and enjoy!