Traveling Through Summer

It’s been awhile since I posted any new recipes here. We’ve been making lots of old favorite summer recipes mostly.

Romesco Dinner 2015

We make homemade Romesco at the first sign of asparagus and spring onions!

At the first sign of yellow crookneck squash, I start dreaming about this wonderful Buttermilk Squash Soup recipe from 101 Cookbooks. And last week, we had enough tomatoes from our Double N Urban Farm CSA to make a Tomato Crumble Pie. I look forward to both of these every summer.

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A few weeks back, we had lots of beautiful varieties of kale in our CSA basket and came up with this lovely variation of a Kale Caesar.

Kale Varieties

Kale Caesar with Seed Brittle
Serves 2
1 bunch Kale (I used a variety of different kinds of Kale leaves.)
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
1 large clove of Garlic, chopped
1 tsp Mustard
1/2 tsp Worcestershire
1 Egg, coddled
3 shakes Tabasco
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/3 cup Parmesan Reggiano, grated
Lemon wedges

Seed Brittle
1/2 cup Seeds (I used an even mix of sunflower and pepitas.)
1 tsp Chili Powder
1Tbsp. Maple Syrup
Sea Salt

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To make the seed brittle, use an iron skillet. Place seeds in skillet on medium heat. Once they start to get warm and slightly toasty, pour in maple syrup. Stir and add chili powder and a pinch of salt. Remove from heat and let cool on a plate. Wash kale leaves well, dry, and remove the middle, thick vein. Tear leaves into bite sized pieces and place in a big bowl. To make dressing- in a small bowl, mix the garlic, mustard, Worcestershire, egg, and olive oil with a small whisk. Slowly pour the olive oil in as you whisk. Pour dressing over kale leaves. Pour cheese in and gently toss. Top with seed brittle. Divide between two plates and serve with a lemon wedge.

Kale Caesar

And then we went to Austin where it has become our tradition to eat as many tacos as is possible!

Taco Tour 2015

We tried lots of new places to us but our very favorite new taco was the “Gringa” from Rosita’s Al Pastor on East Riverside Drive. It was divine! In fact, I’ve been day dreaming about it ever since.

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Grant played a gig with our friend and talented songwriter, Teri Joyce. I love seeing music in Texas because the room is always full of dancers!

Grant playing with Teri Joyce & The Tagalongs at ABGB in Austin.

Grant playing with Teri Joyce & The Tagalongs at ABGB in Austin.

We also finally experienced Willie’s Picnic on the 4th of July which was super fun. I’ve never been much of a festival fan but I am happy to report that Willie’s Picnic was very well organized, all the bands put on great performances, and it was an all around fun day. It was a great mix of our favorite Texas and Nashville bands.

There was a huge crowd at Willie's Picnic!

There was a huge crowd at Willie’s Picnic! (That’s KRIS KRISTOFFERSON on stage, not that you can tell!)

One Nashville musician we were really happy to hear, whose new album Traveller has been in heavy rotation at our house, was Chris Stapleton . Nine years ago last month, as we drove across country to relocate to Nashville in search of real (old) country music history, we tried to acquaint ourselves with some of the newer country music that was happening on the big country radio stations. Every once in awhile we would hear a song that would catch our attention and reel us in. Almost every one of those songs, we would later find out, was written by Chris Stapleton. Once we got to Nashville, one of the first local bands we starting seeing at the Station Inn was The SteelDrivers, fronted by none other than Chris Stapleton. Well, now, he’s out on his own with his wife, Morgan Hayes, accompanying him on vocals and a killer backing band consisting of JT Cure on bass and Derek Mixon on drums (two of my favorites). Another common thread that links this album to many of my other current Nashville favorites is producer Dave Cobb. He seems to have it going on…

You can read/hear a fabulous interview with Chris that our friend Jewly Hight did for NPR here. Traveller is one of my new favorite albums. It’s pure country soul. You can purchase the new album here.

I was super excited to see that Samantha Harlow has a new video out! You can see it and read so much about her in this fun Rolling Stone Country article here. We’ve known Samantha since Grant played down at Robert’s. She tends bar and often jumps up on stage to sing a song or two. She has such a lovely voice. Keep an eye on this one, I think she has a bright future.

Samantha Harlow played our Red Barn Round-Up party way back when... May, 2013.

Samantha Harlow played our Red Barn Round-Up party way back when… May, 2013.

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Eating Lots of Carrots & Thinking about Austin

Carrots

I just love cooked carrots. I know, not everyone does but I can’t help but think those who do not, just haven’t really explored all the taste possibilities cooked carrots have. They are so delicious cooked with onions and a little butter. So savory with a tad bit of sweetness. And they are so good for us, nutritionally speaking. Carrots can be alkalinizing, cleansing, nourishing, and stimulating to almost every system in the body. Carrots are powerful antioxidants which can help prevent and fight cancer in the body. Carrots are also high in fiber and loaded with pectin which can reduce blood cholesterol levels. Don’t fool with those “baby carrots” though, as they aren’t really babies at all, just big ones that have been whittled down to look cute and easy to eat. How wasteful. And I have found that those are never as flavorful as the the real deal.

Here’s a couple of comfort dishes I came up with in the last week. The first one is a risotto. Instead of using arborio rice, though, I found some Italian farro in the cupboard. Farro is similar to barley so it takes a little bit longer to cook and has a little bit more of a chew than rice but it’s pretty yummy.

Carrot Risotto

Roasted Carrot Farro Risotto
Serves 6

  • 5 Carrots
  • ½ Onion, sliced
  • 6 cups Vegetable Broth
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 Tbsp dried Italian herbs
  • 2 Tbsp Butter
  • ½ Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves Garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 2 cups Farro
  • 1 cup White Wine (Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmesan Reggiano
  • Small Bunch Parsley, chopped
  • Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper to taste

Carrots Roasting

The key to cooking risotto is to stir constantly so be sure to have all ingredients prepped ahead of time. Preheat oven to 400. Slice the carrots very thinly- I like to use a mandoline to get them thin and uniform. Spread the carrots and the onion slices out in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil, Italian herbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook in the oven for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set carrots aside. Heat the stock in medium sauce pan. Once it comes to a boil, lower temperature to simmer. Heat butter in large flat pan on medium heat. Add the other half of the chopped onion and saute. Stir. Cook for a couple minutes. Add farro. Stir. Add wine. Stir. Gradually begin to add stock in, about half a cup at a time and continue to stir. Stir until most of the liquid is absorbed. Add a little bit of the fresh chopped parsley every few minutes, too. Add another addition of stock and stir until most of the liquid is absorbed. Repeat this process until the mixture is creamy and a bit loose; the farro will still have some chew to it. The process will take about 45 minutes, as the farro takes longer to cook than rice. Add the carrots and onions in and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir. Add parmesan to risotto and stir. Sprinkle with the remaining fresh chopped parsley. I served it with a simple green salad.

And then there was this next concoction which would be good served with some greens or roasted Brussels sprouts on the side. It might also make an excellent side dish for some grilled pork chops. I love the sweet and spicy from the maple and bourbon combined with the Tobasco in the grits mixed with the earthiness of the rosemary and Gruyere. Mmm…

Carrots & Onions

Maple Bourbon Carrots & Grits
Serves 4-6

  • 1 cup Stone-Ground Corn Grits*
  • 4 cups Water
  • ¼ – ½ cup Buttermilk
  • 1 cup grated cave-aged Gruyere cheese
  • Tabasco
  • Sea Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Tbsp Ghee or Butter
  • 6-7 Carrots, sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 big Red Onion, Sliced
  • 1 Tbsp Maple Syrup
  • 2 Tbsp Bourbon
  • Chopped fresh Parsley & Rosemary (I used about 2 Tbsp)
  • Salt & Black Pepper to taste

I tend to go for a creamier texture for my grits but you can play around with how long you cook them, how much liquid you add, etc. until you find the right texture to suit you. Cooking instructions usually have you soak the grits in the water to allow the hulls to rise to the top so you can skim them off. I always omit this step, opting for a little more grit and texture. Place the water in a pan on the stove. Add the grits and a couple pinches of salt and bring to a boil. Stir and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once it starts to thicken, pour buttermilk in a little at a time and stir, as the liquid starts to all be absorbed and get thicker. Once you get a nice creamy texture and the grits aren’t too tough to taste, add the cheese, Tabasco, salt, and pepper and stir. Total cooking time usually takes about 45 minutes for me.

Grits

As the grits cook… In an iron skillet on medium heat, add the ghee. Add the onions and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften and caramelize. Keep stirring and right when you start to think the carrots are just about done, add the maple syrup and bourbon. Stir and then toss the herbs in. Cook a couple more minutes. Serve carrots over the grits.

Grits & Carrots

*All grits are definitely not created equally. Be sure to use really good quality, old fashioned, stone-ground grits which you can usually find in nicer grocery stores, specialty shops, at old mills out in the country, or online. I really like to use Falls Mills grits when in Tennessee.

Austin

SxSW is coming up down in Austin, TX and we, sadly, are not making the trek this year. Just thinking about it and hearing as our friends prepare to head down has made me crave some good ol’ Texas tacos! If you are headed Texas way, here’s my list of favorite taco joints from a few years back. And then, there’s also this I wrote the following year. I’m sure there are plenty of new places to try but these listed are some of the best that have been around for awhile.

And speaking of SxSW, these two are preparing to take it by storm! They’ve got a slew of shows down in Austin, and at towns along the way, and I am so happy for them.

Cale Tyson & Kelsey Walden, The Red Barn Round-Up, 2013.

Cale Tyson & Kelsey Waldon, The Red Barn Round-Up, 2013.

We first met Kelsey Waldon at a $2 Tuesday at The 5 Spot long ago and quite often she will sit in with Santa’s Ice Cold Pickers on Sunday nights at Santa’s Pub. We were instantly drawn to her old school country sound. Kelsey is from Kentucky and just graduated with a degree from Belmont in songwriting. Her songs are thoughtful and honest. It is evident she has an understanding and love of real country music. There is a vulnerability in her voice and her warm, genuine personality shines through her songs.

Kelsey

Kelsey Waldon with Brett Resnick on pedal steel guitar, The Music Loft at Mad Donnas, Nashville, 2013.

Here’s a video of her song, Know My Name, that was shot at The Stone Fox in January. This song is the first one from her most recent album titled, Fixin’ It Up. She has a new album coming out real soon. Watch for it!

Cale Tyson is another singer and songwriter who we first met as he led the Ice Cold Pickers at Santa’s Pub. Cale is from Texas and sings slow, mournful yodels with a slight Texas twang. He sings songs about whiskey, being lonesome, honky-tonks, and lost love with a deep respect for the legendary songwriters whose music he grew up on.

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Cale with Grant Johnson on guitar, The Music Loft at Mad Donna’s, Nashville, 2013.

His first EP, High on Lonesome, just came out and features some of Nashville’s best musicians. Here’s a video he shot for his song, Old Time Blues, featuring Grant “Big Smokey” Johnson on guitar and the beautiful Erin Rae singing.

Both Kelsey and Cale have voices very indicative of where they are from, seem fully immersed in Nashville’s rich history, and are poised for a very bright musical future.

Don’t Mess With Texas


We just returned from a trip to Austin, TX. We love Texas! I totally did not understand the phrase, “Don’t mess with Texas” until visiting Texas a couple times and then I suddenly got it. There is so much pride in Texas that even as we just visit and drive through the state, I feel such an incredible sense of place. It sort of reminds me of the feeling I get when I visit Canada. There is such loyalty and camaraderie felt amongst all the locals. It really does feel like its own little country. We were there for a wedding (congratulations Ruby & Jorge!) but stayed a few days so we could do all of our favorite Austin things and experience a few new sights. Wimberley is my new favorite place to daydream about. That Blanco River is something else- so peaceful and serene. The Wild West Store has some of the most beautiful boots I have ever seen. What a collection!

And we visited Senglemann (Dance) Hall in Schulenberg. (Note to self: Most small towns are completely closed on Mondays.)

Many of the old Dance Halls across Texas are being restored. It is very exciting!

Another new adventure for us this time was experiencing the kolaches at Czech Stop in West, Texas about an hour and a half North of Austin, right off I35. All of our friends who travel through Texas on a regular basis always talk about these yummy little Czech pastries. West claims to be the “Kolache Capital of Texas” and apparently everyone knows it because this place was super crowded. We sampled several different varieties from savory to sweet including an apple, prune, and a sausage and jalapeno. The Czech Republic seems to have had a good influence on Texas in more ways than one.

Of course one of the most significant aspects about visiting Texas to us is… eating as many tacos as we possibly can! Last Spring, I reported on all my favorite Austin taco joints. This year, we returned to many of those spots and found a few new places, as well. I finally learned to exercise restraint and only order one taco at a time so I could order more frequently throughout the day! Our first stop was Torchy’s Tacos. To be honest, this was not a favorite for me last trip. I felt like they were a little too “gourmet” and not authentic enough. However, the one thing that led me back was that amazing queso dip. It was still just as tasty…

And, only because I did not want to regret never tasting it, I ordered the Brush Fire Taco (jerk chicken and mango salsa) which friends Ruby and Derek both kept bragging about all last year. I was pleasantly surprised with how well all the flavors went together.

The Brush Fire Taco at Torchys & Grant ordered a shrimp taco and pulled pork taco.

One of our very favorite spots from last year was Curra’s. This year, it was better than ever. My only advise is very carefully control your chip and salsa intake because they do not offer tacos a la carte so you have to order a full plate which consists of rice and beans. My al pastor tacos were so amazing and dang if I didn’t fill up and couldn’t eat both. I’m still mourning the loss of that second taco. Oh, and also, Curra’s has the most delightful avocado margarita. This, coming from a girl who never orders frozen margaritas and usually has them very simple- on the rocks. The avocado is just right- creamy and not too sweet and oh, so delicious!

We actually missed getting to go to Maria’s this year as we didn’t realize they closed early on Sundays. We did buy some of her amazing Chimichuri at the market, though, to bring home with us. And we did, however, get breakfast at Polvos again. Their salsas are really good! I had one taco with nopalitos and eggs which was a great combination!

And we also enjoyed breakfast tacos at La Mexicana with our buddy Teri one morning. These guys make the best flour tortillas we’ve tasted. We were surprised to discover a new little espresso stand inside that had some great coffee, too.

La Mexicana also has a bakery which is good for late night snacks!

We returned to Guero’s on S. Congress for shrimp tacos. Their shrimp tacos are the best. The shrimp is cooked with sliced mushrooms and tomatillos. I added grilled onions when we went for lunch. We enjoyed their tacos so much that we went back for another taco at dinnertime a few hours later- just because we could!

On our way out of town we met our buddy Claire at Juan in a Million over on the East side of town. Juan seems to be the unofficial mayor of the East side! He served up some of the best migas tacos I’ve ever had. Deelicious!

A couple places we didn’t have time to check out but that were on our list to try are: Mi Ranchito in Manchaca, Texas and Arandas in Austin, right next to the G & S Lounge. Next visit!

We did our usual grocery store tour, paying homage to the HEB Central Market and the flagship Whole Foods. We also stopped by one of several Saturday morning Farmer’s Markets, The Barton Creek Farmer’s Market, which is huge!

There is always so much great music to see in Texas. We got to see our friends Teri Joyce & The Tagalongs play (with one of our very favorite drummers of all time- Lisa Pankratz) and Ruby Dee & The Snakehandlers play their first show as a married couple! Ruby & Jorge had an amazing band, Los Pinkys, play at their wedding party. Los Pinkys play Texas-Mexican style dance music known as “conjunto music.” They were so fun. And we got to hear Dale Watson at the Broken Spoke and the amazing, one and only, Redd Volkaert, with his band Hay Bale at the Continental Club. Texans have a lot of fun!

Los Pinkys

I’ll close this post with one of Grant’s new favorite recipes for Chile Verde. His recipe is adapted from a recipe he found on Simply Recipes. It is a time intensive recipe but well worth the effort as Chile Verde makes some damn good tacos!

Roasting the tomatillos!

Chile Verde
Serves 8

Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds tomatillos
5 garlic cloves, not peeled
2 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed, chopped
2 Anaheim or Poblano chiles (optional)or 12 can of Roasted Green Chiles
1 bunch cilantro leaves, cleaned and chopped
3 1/2 to 4 pounds pork shoulder (also called pork butt), trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 to 2 inch cubes
Sea Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tbsp of chopped fresh oregano or 1 Tbsp of dried oregano
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 Pinch ground cumin

Remove papery husks from tomatillos and rinse well. Cut in half and place cut
side down, along with 5 unpeeled garlic cloves, on a foil-lined baking sheet.
Place under a broiler for about 5-7 minutes to lightly blacken the skin. Remove
from oven, let cool enough to handle.

If you want the additional flavor of chiles other than jalapenos, you can add a
couple Anaheim or poblano chiles. Either use canned green chiles or roast fresh
chilies over a gas flame or under the broiler until blackened all around. Let
cool in a bag, remove the skin, seeds, and stem.

Place tomatillos, skins included, into blender. Remove the now roasted garlic
cloves from their skins, add them to the blender. Add chopped Jalapeño peppers,
other chilies (if you are using them), and cilantro to the blender. Pulse until
all ingredients are finely chopped and mixed.

Season the pork cubes generously with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a
large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium high heat and brown pork chunks well

on all sides. Work in batches so that the pork is not crowded in the pan and
has a better chance to brown well. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, lift pork
out of pan and place in bowl, set aside.

Pour off excess fat, anything beyond a tablespoon, and place the onions and
garlic in the same skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until limp, about 5
minutes. If your skillet is large enough to cook the entire batch of chile
verde, with the sauce and meat, then add the pork back to the pan. If not, get
a large soup pot and add the onion mixture and the pork to it. Add the oregano
to the pan. Add the tomatillo chile verde sauce to the pork and onions. Add the
chicken stock (enough to cover the meat). Add a pinch of ground cloves. Add a
little salt and pepper. (Not too much as the chile verde will continue to cook
down and concentrate a bit.)

Bring to a boil and reduce to a slight simmer. Cook for 2-3 hours uncovered or
until the pork is fork tender.

Adjust the seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with Spanish rice and
warmed flour tortillas or freshly made corn tortillas.

Happy Eating Y’all!

Austin, Texas

I LOVE Austin! I LOVE TACOS! We go down to Austin at least once a year and although I know they also have great bbq and smoked meats, I try hard to stay on a strict taco diet while I am there and actually get a little grumpy when I have to eat a non-taco meal (a few exceptions, of course, such as my cupcake night and our friend Ruby’s famous buckwheat pancakes!). My taco count this year was 16!

Upon my arrival, Grant whisked me to one of his favorite new taco finds, Torchy’s! Torchy’s has three locations and I was lucky to visit two of their locations- the original one on 1st Avenue South, just south of Oltorf and the one in the trailer park dining establishment also on 1st, towards downtown. Their tacos are naughtier, less traditional, and a little more gourmet than I expected but really good. I had a fried chicken taco and a fish taco. We returned for breakfast with Derek the next day and I had two breakfast tacos which were delicious- one egg and one potato. Next time, I will try Ruby and Derek’s favorite, the Brush Fire which has jerk chicken and mango and is really spicy. My favorite indulgence there, however, was the Green Chili Queso dip! It was to die for. Usually when I eat queso, I can’t help but continually think about how I am most definitely eating some sort of fake cheese food but this queso was so delicious and layered with goodness that I had no food guilt or cheese concerns. I just knew it was DELICIOUS!

Torchy’s Queso…

Torchy’s Breakfast…

My Welcome to Austin lunch at Torchy’s…

One of our all-time favorite places for tacos in Austin is Maria’s Tacos Xpress on South Lamar.

We were first introduced to Maria’s during our very first trip to Austin in 2005 as we ate with our old friends Laura Reneke and Jen Lipton. At that time, Maria’s was a small place with dirt floors and it was surrounded by a trailer park. We knew instantly that we loved Maria. She is Argentenian and famous for her Chimichuri sauce (tons of cilantro with vinegar and chilis) which is one of the reasons Grant and I love this place (yet, one complaint we’ve heard about Maria’s food from friends is that it is too heavy on the cilantro so I guess it just depends on your taste). A few years back it was remodeled with materials from the old location and moved a block or so and is a little fancier now but has kept its charm. This year, we were fortunate to eat there twice. Once, I got veggie tacos (to help make up for the Torchy’s tacos earlier in the day) but splurged on a Mexitini- YUM! The second visit I had a fish taco and an avocado taco and bites of Grant’s al pastor taco.

Veggie Tacos & Mexitini…

Fish, al Pastor, and Avocado tacos…

Another favorite place for Taco’s that we discovered last year is Polvos on South 1st. We met our friends from Seattle, Cheryl and Kevin, there for breakfast on Saturday. It is always good.

One restaurant where we have always seemed to enjoy Margaritas in past trips but never ordered food is Guero’s in the thick of the South Congress crowds. We decided to finally eat there and it was so fresh and delicious. I had a shrimp taco and an al pastor. It wasn’t my favorite al pastor but really good and the shrimp was fantastic. They have amazing salsas, too, especially the green tomatillo salsa.

Just as last year, we met our friend from Nashville who lives in Austin now, Claire Small, over on the east side at one of her favorite diners, Cisco’s! . Last year I ordered a simple breakfast taco with eggs and maybe chorizo and it was good but I regretted not ordering Claire’s favorite, the Miggas Tacos. So this year, I had a Miggas Taco and it was one of my very favorite breakfast tacos. I think there is just enough diner grease thrown into the miggas for a little extra goodness! This place has history- I think the walls might actually talk.

On our last meal in Austin, we had lunch at Curra’s with Ruby, Jorge, and Teri Joyce. It was sunny and warm so we ate on the deck. I usually order margaritas on the rocks but was told by several people to try the avocado margarita which is frozen. It was so delicious- icy, creamy, smooth and not too sweet. I had to have more shrimp tacos so that is what I ordered. Everyone else had the al pastor so I was sure to taste them and they were great! I enjoyed their beans and Spanish rice, as well. We will for sure return to Curra’s!

An ever growing trend in Austin is restaurants in old Air Stream Trailers! They are all so cute. The Austin food scene is really happening. Here are photos from my two non-taco excursions…

Our friend and hostess, Ruby’s famous buckwheat pancakes…

Hey Cupcake!

We were there this trip because Grant had 4 music gigs with Derek Hoke during the SXSW Music Conference. While visiting during SXSW, however, we usually keep our musical explorations to the nonSXSW free day parties or stay true to the Texas music scene.

One of the things I love most about Texans is that when they hear good music, they dance!

One of my favorite little dive venues for local music is, Ginny’s Little Longhorns. We saw James Intveld and Dale Watson there on Saturday night.

On Sunday, we drove down to Gruene Hall , one of Texas’ oldest dance halls to see Bill Kirchen.

We were also able to see some of our friends (and Alejandro Escovedo!) play as with SXSW going on, everyone had multiple gigs all over town.

A good time was had by all! Now, back to my Nashville reality. More Tennessee food and music to soon follow.