Monday, June 30, 2014

Micklethwait Craft Meats: Austin's Hipster Barbecue

Tucked away in a rapidly gentrifying area of East Austin where ever increasing rents are forcing out the artists and hipsters who first brought attention to the neighborhood is Micklethwait Craft Meats.  

Flaunting all the classic hallmarks of Texas barbeque -- a smoke filled shack, picnic tables, butcher paper, plain white bread, pickles, and onions -- Micklethwait's meats boast a black peppery coating with mild smokey flavor and in very short time this little yellow trailer has become a pilgrimage point for food bloggers and fellow hipsters with long smoked meats and a rotating selection of homemade sausage.
Maybe I am too tied to tradition but Micklethwait's sides -- I tried the coleslaw and jalapeƱo grits --seemed off. Instead of creamy slaw to cool the sauce's spice their version is crowded with poppy seeds and orange and not the slightest bit sweet. The grits lacked flavor.
Where I expected spice Micklethwait's is restrained. They sauce is subtle and though the homemade sausage was described as lamb chorizo it had none of the familiar fire of the Latin specialty. Miklethwait's meats are well cooked and boast a lovely red smoke ring but to me something is missing. Their cue is just fine but seems to lack the soul of tradition and the assertive personality of a confident (and traditionally quite opinionated) pit master.
Micklethwait's may come into it's own and take it's place among the Texas barbecue legends but for now it has the journey to go.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Maybe Next Time

Austin's undisputed king of barbecue, world famous Franklin Barbecue -- closed for renovations during my visit. Sigh.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Iron Works Barbecue: Austin TX

Texas is covered in barbecue. Unlike most locales where smokers rule, in The Lone Star State traditionally beef, not pork is king.
I'm a fan of Memphis' dry rubs and North Carolina's vinegar based sauce but beef ribs, rarely seen outside of Texas, are my favorite barbecue dish and so just arrived on the evening plane --I ventured out to see what the area had to offer.
In Austin and perhaps throughout the barbecue world the really great meat mecca's (like Austin's legendary Franklin -- tragically closed for renovation during my stay) are lunch only affairs. They open when the meat is ready and close when sold out for the day. Beyond that are the reliable though perhaps not spectacular joints that cater their operations more to modern style and family dinner schedules than the whims of the pit. One such outpost, Iron Works, is a downtown barbecue shack operating from a ramshackle metal building that sits securely (the building is on the historic registry) among present-day Austin's modern corridor. 
I was determined to find beef barbecue on my first night in Austin. A meer 3 blocks from my hotel and still open when I went looking for dinner, Iron Works was the easy (I was on foot) choice. Outside of Texas meat like Iron Works' would probably cause quite a stir and gather a loyal following. Here in Austin it's just another spot on the landscape with fans and detractors serving absurd amounts of meat for a reasonable price. 
Iron Works may not be the best ever but huddled into a checkered booth on a warm Texas night to me it was a welcome, comforting taste I'd been missing for years.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Garden Grows

My first crop on my beautiful new garden arches.
Tall enough to walk through and pick fresh snap (and snow) peas . . .
or revel in the gentle sweet peppery scent of flowery nasturtiums -- soon to be brightly colored flavored vinegar.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Simple Stack

Creamy polenta, a crisp breaded chicken cutlet, bitter carrot top pesto and a peppery salad of arugula, cress (and sheep's milk cheese) from our overflowing garden. Simple summer suppers.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Best In Show

 The first fair of the season and my biggest prize ever! Best in show for my salted macadamia nut brittle, a simple recipe I make every Christmas season with a variety of different nuts. My very own rosette,

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Garden Art

The garden keeps growing. Carrots are just now starting to crowd the nearby beans. Radishes are popping up between the vining cucumbers. Tender lettuces are shaded by skyward reaching tomatoes. An early salad growing up among the late summer crops. Fresh.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sweet and Spicy

The first fruit hanging on our young Seckel pear tree. The smallest of all commercially grown pears and so sweet they are know as "sugar pears" Seckels are the perfect bite sized dessert pear and thought by some to be the only true American variety. No matter their provenance the sweet spicy flavor of Seckel pears is a delight fresh with mild cheese, roasted with meats or poached for dessert. I can hardly wait for harvest.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

With A Touch Of Vanilla

Summer pie.
Peach with a touch of apricot.
Flaky lard crust crowned with coarse sugar. A La Mode.
Homemade ricotta honey ice cream and bourbon infused pecan caramel sauce.
Each element kissed with a touch of bourbon infused vanilla extract specially hand made by James' friend Alex and his company Vanilla Nouveau. We were lucky enough to be sent a bottle.
I'm not sure why it's taken so long for Vanilla to be infused not with bourbon beans but with actual cask aged bourbon. It's genius. The slight caramel flavor of the vanilla enhances the toasty flavors in the roasted peaches, honey, and pecans. Though this lovely vanilla may be slightly too flavorful for delicate desserts like chiffons or angel food (but maybe not), it is perfect for the kind of Southern style sweet desserts that scream summer picnics and lazy sunny afternoons with friends. My baking is better for it. What a great gift!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sir and Star

Once upon a time in the hills above Tomales Bay there was a fantasy lodge. A breathtaking craftsman castle filled with carefully foraged wildflowers, period furniture, plain air paintings and stupendous food. Manka's nightly tasting menus were filled with uber local ingredients from farmers and foragers that chef Daniel DeLong and owner Margaret Grade know well. At a nearby table in their dreamy, romantic dining room  might have as easily been Prince Charles and Camilla as a neighboring peach farmer or grateful visitor. Manka's was like a dream, except we had been there and knew it was once real.
When Manka's main lodge burned to the ground nearly a decade ago I mourned for what had been and would never be again. The beautiful cabins and annex mercifully were saved and Manka's is still offering romantic rooms that define rustic elegance. For years after the fire the couple served food in the rooms and did holiday dinners in temporary dining spaces until a few years ago they were able to buy a neighboring hotel, The Olema Inn that had fallen into disrepair and itself presented a mournful image of what once was. The Olema is now their dining room, the restaurant Sir and Star.
 James and I went to the Sir and Star's "soft opening" Thanksgiving two years ago. The food was okay, the service was terrible -- not even comically terrible -- and again we mourned for what had once been.
We never went back. Until last night. Looking for a real taste of Marin county I shuttled our guests to the Sir and Star with a ready disclaimer for what might be to find I had misjudged the Sir and Star. The restaurant, still under the watchful eye of Chef DeLong has graciously found it's stride offering a selection of small plates (and a nightly set menu) from nearby ingredients. Mussel infused clam chowder, crunchy bubble and squeak with local crispy bacon and runny duck egg, roasted marrow bones with oxtail vinaigrette, little gem lettuce with boiled dressing, fried oysters with Meyer lemon dipping sauce and more all written on the menu as poetic riddles punctuated with locations and producers (Peter, Bill or Dr Pasternak for example).
The Sir and Star is not the hushed reverence of Mankas. It's time worn floors and simple decor are friendly and casual maybe more appropriate to the way we choose to dine out these days. The food is inventive and fun and addictive. The service is attentive and charming. In the end you are left full and happy and wondering how can they make a plain potato taste so good?
I'll go back to the Sir and Star.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Koi Palace Daly City

In chat rooms, food blogs, and local newspapers the question of the best dim sum in the area (really in any food centric city) is always hotly debated. When our guests were looking for yum cha treats we headed to the internet and though many places came up repeatedly Koi Palace had, by far, the most enthusiastic reviews from posters, food critics, magazines, and newspapers. As with most really good Chinese food it is a bit off the beaten path (at least the city center beaten path). We set out to take on the adventure and were well rewarded.
 Koi Palace is a massive food hall with a seemingly endless line of eaters waiting for tables. Glancing around the waiting crowd our shining white faces were very much in the minority. Many of the restaurant's transactions are conducted in Chinese and most of the women carrying trays or pushing carts speak only enough English to vaguely describe the dish they are offering. Language barrier aside (there are sever waiter captains who circle the room with a good command of English and take orders for menu only items such as this extravaganza of crab dumplings and fried dungeness legs) the din of happy crowds, clacking chopsticks and teacups makes it virtually impossible to hear so everyone is pretty much in the same boat.
We happily said yes to just about everything that walked by and every dish was well executed and a few -- like the crispy Chinese bacon served room temperature with a mild mustard dipping sauce made it worth the hour and a half drive and the wait. I'd drive down again for that.
 Other than the gluttony it inspires my problem with dim sum (or really self control) is that I am always looking for something new. I don't want to give up any often dishes I love (congee, sticky rice "Chinese tamales", shrimp and spinach dumplings, etc) but I always feel -- or fear -- there is something special, something unknown being left untasted. On a whim, ordering off the menu we asked for lamb buns in clay pot having no idea what to expect. We got steaming hot, pan crisped soft white bread surrounding a small but well seasoned lamb meatball. As they are brought to the table our served pourer what I think may have been with sweet vinegar or rice wine onto the piping hot clay dish lending a pleasant sweetness to the doughy buns.
Something new in a new place I already can't wait to try again.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

BBQ Sliders

It all started with a bottle of fresh apple juice we didn't finish. The expiration date came close. I couldn't throw it away. I tucked the juice in the freezer waiting for recipe inspiration.
With family coming to visit and making their way meandering up the coast I figured we needed a dinner that could cook slowly and wait. Knowing they are BBQ fans I landed on pulled pork. The perfect the longer it cooks the better kind of meal and a great place to hide apple juice -- or enhance the flavor with apple juice let's say.
To start I mixed up a dry rub (2 TB paprika, 1 TB garlic powder, 2 TB brown sugar, 1 TB dry mustard, 1 TB chili powder, 1 tsp cayenne, 2 TB salt) for the meat. I slathered the rub over the pork shoulder roast and let the meat wait over night wrapped up in the fridge. The next morning I sliced one onion and layered it in the bottom of my crock pot followed by the seasoned roast. I poured apple juice about 1/2 way up the side of the roast, covered the pot and let the meat cook slowly on low all day. This was a big roast -- about 7 pounds -- in fact too big for my crock pot but I carried on. After a long day of cooking (maybe 8-9 hours) I removed the roast and used two forks to tear it apart into delicious little threads. I poured out most of the extra fat in the crock pot, returned the meat to the slow cooker and mixed in about 2 1/2 cups of homemade -- you guessed it -- apple BBQ sauce (from a recipe by BBQ guru Steven Raichlen). The meat simmered along in the sauce waiting for our guests, soft buttery King's Hawaiian rolls and a topping of creamy sweet Southern style coleslaw (1/2 head cabbage, 1 large carrot and 1/4 onion tossed with a dressing of a heavy 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 2 TB lemon juice, 2 TB white vinegar, 1 1/2 TB sugar -- some people would use more, 3 TB milk (soured with the lemon and vinegar) and , S&P).
One of my favorite combinations -- a tasty shortcut to summer.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Blue Ribbon Dreams

Off to the county fair to drop off my canned goods for judging. I'm entering several categories with my home made and home grown preserves. I have to wait until the fair opens July 3rd to see how I did. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Fields Near Home

Fresh cut hay waiting for the baler. Golden windrows drying in the sun. Storing the spring for cold winter days ahead.