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.

Cale-1

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.

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.