Con’ Olio oilve oil store founder Jeff Conarko dies

I was saddened this week to learn about the death of Jeff Conarko, the owner of Con’ Olio Oils & Vinegars, an olive oil shop with three Austin-area locations.

Tabatha and Jeff Conarko founded Con' Olio in 2010. Photo by Jarrad Henderson for the Austin American Statesman.
Tabatha and Jeff Conarko founded Con’ Olio in 2009. Photo by Jarrad Henderson for the Austin American Statesman.

I met Jeff back in 2010 after he had just opened the first Con’ Olio up in the Arboretum, and as we talked about choosing better olive oils and making better salad dressings,  that’s when I first saw his passion for olive oils. I’d never seen someone get so excited talking about a single category of ingredients. He loved talking about the industry, the countries of origins, the politics behind the import business, the flavors locked up in those little bottles.

He was already a cancer survivor at that point, even with young children running around the shop. At the time, I wasn’t sure if Austin customers would be willing to spend the money on such high-quality oil, but they did, so much so that he was able to open two other locations, one in Bee Cave and another downtown.

A memorial service will take place Friday, April 1, 2016, at 12:30 p.m. at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, and will be followed by a celebration of Jeff’s life with friends and family at Con’ Olio Oils & Vinegars, 10000 Research Blvd., suite 130, Austin, Texas 78759. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made in Jeff’s name to the Pulmonary Hypertension Association or the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Here is a link to his full obituary.

Gender on the table at sixth annual Foodways Texas symposium April 7-9

Foodways Texas is hosting its sixth annual symposium in Austin April 7-9. This photo is from the second annual event in 2012 at Boggy Creek Farm. Photo by Jim Gossen.
Foodways Texas is hosting its sixth annual symposium in Austin April 7-9. This photo is from the second annual event in 2012 at Boggy Creek Farm. Photo by Jim Gossen.

Have you ever wondered why restaurant criticism has traditionally been a man’s job, while newspaper food writers (not the critics, the ones like me) are almost always women?

What about why there are so few women pitmasters? Or why people like James Beard get all the credit for the work of food writers like Clementine Paddleford or Texas’ Helen Corbitt?

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that these are the kinds of questions and conundrums that I love exploring. Last year, I wrote three features about gender and race in cooking, starting with a piece in January about the (almost forgotten) history of the early food writing pioneers who were not named James Beard. In September, I wrote about the imbalance of gender in restaurant kitchens that was tied to a book called “Taking the Heat” from two San Marcos sociologists, followed a few weeks later by a profile of Toni Tipton-Martin’s landmark book, “The Jemima Code,” which has been nominated for a James Beard Award.

Next week, Foodways Texas will host its sixth annual symposium, and the subject is gender and food.

Food experts from across the state — including some from out of state — will come to Austin for the three-day symposium, taking place at April 7 to 9 at various locations around Austin, including the University of Texas.

“At Home on the Range” is the name of this year’s theme, and although that title hints at the idea of a women’s place in the kitchen, Foodways Texas director Marvin Bendele has booked lots of speakers who will make sure that all forms of identity, including race and sexual orientation, will also be on the table, so to speak.

Tickets cost $275 for members of $315 for members of the public, and that includes drinks and six meals from local chefs. (You can buy tickets and find out more about the event at foodwaystexas.com.)

Speakers include Pat Sharpe, the food critic for Texas Monthly, and Prudence Mackintosh, a freelance writer from Dallas, who will give a presentation about Corbitt, the famed cookbook author and Texas foodways champion. Monica Perales of the University of Houston will talk about chili queens of San Antonio, and Tipton-Martin, Chris Williams of Lucille’s in Houston and Austin restaurateur Hoover Alexander will talk about the role of African American women in the development of Southern and Texas cuisine.

I’ll be moderating a panel on Friday about the business of cookbooks in Texas with Diana Barrios-Trevino of San Antonio, “The Homesick Texan” author Lisa Fain and “Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking” author Kate Payne.

The symposium will conclude on Saturday night with a Czech dinner with Monica Pop from Sparrow Bar & Cookshop in Houston.

French Legation to host Edible Austin’s Children’s Picnic on April 10

childrenspicnicWhew, it’s a busy season for food events!

That’s what happens when South by Southwest ends and the beautiful spring weather begins.

From 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 10, Edible Austin and SANDE Youth Project are hosting their annual Children’s Picnic at the French Legation Museum, 802 San Marcos St., which brings together Central Texas families for an afternoon of cooking demos and hands-on learning with local farmers, beekeepers and food organizations.

The event is free, and you can bring a picnic and bring a blanket. There will be live music, a petting zoo and food and drink available from local vendors, including Bee Sweet Lemonade, Coté Catering, Sweet Ritual, Tamale Addiction and Whole Foods Market

Texas VegFest returns to Fiesta Gardens on Saturday

The Texas VegFest, which takes place at Fiesta Gardens in Austin, returns for the fifth year on Saturday. Photo from Texas VegFest.
The Texas VegFest, which takes place at Fiesta Gardens in Austin, returns for the fifth year on Saturday. Photo from Texas VegFest.

It’s the fifth year for the Texas VegFest, a free event at Fiesta Gardens that brings together health, environmental and animal welfare activitsts who also happen to love food.

This year’s VegFest will take place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Fiesta Gardens, 2101 Jesse E. Segovia St., and attendees can enjoy live music, a fashion show, yoga, seed ball-making and food from some of Austin’s top vegetarian and vegan eateries.

You can also check out demos and talks with Jessica Pavs from the N​atural Epicurean, the plant-based cooking school in Austin; Olympic skier Seba Johnson; the Austin-based “taco scientists” behind “The Taco Cleanse” and Los Angeles chef J​acques Laventure.

Austin360Cooks: Ripping off my new favorite restaurant salad at home

Vinaigrette, a new restaurant on South Congress Avenue, serves this salad made with kale, chicken, pepita seeds, black beans and avocados that is my new favorite. Photo by Addie Broyles/@broylesa
Vinaigrette, a new restaurant on South Congress Avenue, serves this salad made with kale, chicken, pepita seeds, black beans and avocados that is my new favorite. Photo by Addie Broyles/@broylesa

I have had a few dishes at the newly opened Vinaigrette, the restaurant in the former Treehouse Italian Grill space at 2201 College Ave., but the one I keep thinking about is this La Pepita salad, made with kale, shredded chicken, black beans, cotija cheese and avocados.

The salad is tossed with a tangy, smoky lemon-cumin vinaigrette that works so well with the avocado, beans, cotija and chicken that I was determined to try to re-create it at home.

Instead of using kale, I went with spring greens — of the “power” variety, if I remember the label correctly — and used leftover chopped chicken, toasted pepitas, canned black beans (drained and rinsed) and, because I didn’t have any cotija on hand, feta cheese. The only thing it was missing was that avocado.

For the vinaigrette, I used a jar to shake together 3 parts olive oil with 1 part lemon juice, salt and about 1/2 tsp. cumin. I rarely measure dressing ingredients, but don’t be afraid of using more cumin if you like or making a larger batch of this for more than one salad.

This is my homemade version of the Vinaigrette salad. Photo by Addie Broyles/@broylesa
This is my homemade version of the Vinaigrette salad. Photo by Addie Broyles/@broylesa

The dressing pairs so well with the chicken and other ingredients, but Vinaigrette also uses a method of combining all the elements that is worth incorporating into your own salad-making practices.

The Vinaigrette staff chops the ingredients so they are smaller than you might usually find at a restaurant, and they mix together the salad so everything is evenly distributed. After I took this photo, I poured on the dressing and then took a fork and knife and sliced up all those greens, tossing them well with the toppings. The end result was a confetti of ingredients so that each bite had a little bit of everything.

Over the winter months, I’d fallen out of love with the dinner salad, but this new approach to making them — and these longer daylight hours and warmer afternoons — have quickly remedied that.

What restaurant dishes have you successfully knocked off at home? Do you have any favorite salad tricks? Share what you are cooking at home by adding #Austin360Cooks to your posts on social media. Every Wednesday, we run one of the posts (or recipes or photos or tips) in the Statesman food section. Here are the recent submissions:

Recipe of the Week: Spaghetti with Artichokes, Lemon and Capers

Spaghetti with artichokes, lemon and capers is an easy weeknight dish from “Saveur: Italian Comfort Food” (Weldon Owen, $35). Photo from Saveur.
Spaghetti with artichokes, lemon and capers is an easy weeknight dish from “Saveur: Italian Comfort Food” (Weldon Owen, $35). Photo from Saveur.

Spaghetti and marinara sauce is one quick weeknight dinner, but if you’re tired of red sauce (or don’t like it or don’t have any on hand), check out this lighter, wine-based alternative.

Artichokes and capers are quintessential Italian ingredients, two of many featured in the new “Saveur: Italian Comfort Food” (Weldon Owen, $35) from the editors of the popular food magazine. In this dish, you simmer the artichokes and other aromatics in wine to create an elegant sauce that’s perfect for spring. Adjust the amount of red pepper flakes, capers and parsley to your liking.

Want to try another classic Italian dish? Check out this recipe for breadcrumb-topped roasted vegetables that is running in Wednesday’s food section.

Spaghetti with Artichokes, Lemon and Capers

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tsp. chili flakes
1/2 cup white wine
1 (12-oz.) can quartered artichokes, drained
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more to garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lb. spaghetti
1/3 cup capers, drained
3 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more to garnish
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Heat oil in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium-high. Add garlic, onion and chili flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add wine and artichokes and cook until wine is reduced by half, 3 minutes. Stir in Parmigiano and season with salt and pepper. Set aside and keep warm.

In a large pot of generously salted boiling water, cook spaghetti, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 8–9 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water. Add pasta and cooking water to reserved sauce and cook about 5 minutes more. Add capers, parsley, lemon zest and juice, and more salt and pepper to taste and toss to combine. Transfer to a platter and garnish with more Parmigiano and parsley. Serves 6 to 8.

— From “Saveur: Italian Comfort Food” (Weldon Owen, $35)

Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest returns to Austin this weekend

allergyfestThis weekend, the Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest is headed back to Austin.

The traveling event will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Austin Convention Center, where festivalgoers can hear from allergy specialists and gluten-free cooking experts and sample products from dozens of companies that specialize in foods that are free of ingredients that most often cause allergies.

Tickets ($15 per day or $25 for the weekend) and info at glutenfreefoodallergyfest.com.

Tired of egg salad? Here’s an international twist on an Easter favorite

Scotch eggs are a popular picnic food in the United Kingdom, and in this Thai-spiced version, they have lemongrass, lime leaves and a hint of red chili. Photo by  Paul Winch-Furness.
Scotch eggs are a popular picnic food in the United Kingdom, and in this Thai-spiced version, they have lemongrass, lime leaves and a hint of red chili. Photo by Paul Winch-Furness.

Scotch eggs aren’t as popular in the U.S. as in the U.K., but around Easter, when you’re looking for ways to use up those hard-boiled eggs, Americans might want to consider these meat-wrapped, fried delicacies.

In her new book, “Egg,” Blanche Vaughan shares this Thai-inspired version, which uses lemongrass, lime leaves and chili to season the meat. She suggests using leftover cooked risotto for the coating if you want to skip the meat, and you could bake these for 25 minutes at 375 degrees instead of frying.

Thai-Spiced Scotch Eggs

These are not as time-consuming to make as you might imagine and are infinitely more enjoyable for being homemade. Scotch eggs are the perfect picnic snack or packed lunch.

— Blanche Vaughan

4 eggs
Oil, for frying (such as sunflower)
For the casing:
14 oz. minced pork or sausage meat
1-2 stalks lemongrass, tough outer layers removed, finely chopped
4 lime leaves, finely chopped
1 small clove garlic, crushed to a paste with a pinch of salt
1 hot red chili, seeded and finely chopped
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
Small bunch of coriander, finely chopped
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
Splash of milk
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

Put the eggs in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and let cool until warm enough to handle. Peel and set aside.

Put all the ingredients for the pork casing (through the sugar) into a large bowl and mix well with your hands. If you want to test or alter the seasonings at this stage, you can fry a teaspoonful of the mixture in a hot pan and then taste and adjust accordingly.

Take three shallow bowls and put the seasoned flour into one, the beaten egg mixed with milk in another and the breadcrumbs in a third. Next to the bowl of flour, put your cooked eggs.

Lay a sheet of baking parchment or plastic wrap on top of a clean work surface and put the pork mixture onto it. Lay another sheet over the top and gently press to make a thin, flat disk. Peel off the top layer of paper.

Dip each cooked egg in flour and dust off any excess. Lay the eggs on the meat in an evenly spaced line and lift the bottom layer of paper to wrap the mixture over the top of the eggs, then peel the paper back to reveal the covered eggs.

Cut the meat into four portions (being careful not to slice through your egg). Dust your hands with flour and press the meat-covered egg between your palms and form a round shape.

Lightly dust a covered egg with seasoned flour, then dip it into the beaten egg and finally coat in breadcrumbs.

Choose a pan that is deep enough for the eggs to be covered in the oil. (The author sometimes use a smaller pan and cook them one at a time, which requires less oil. Alternatively, choose a larger pan and double the amount of oil, up to 1.5 liters. You can reuse the oil for another purpose.)

Heat the oil until it reaches 340 degrees. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, lower the eggs into the oil. Fry for about 7 minutes until they are golden on the outside and the sausage meat is cooked through. Remove to a plate and cover with paper towels, then serve. Serves 4.

— From “Egg: Recipes” by Blanche Vaughan (Harper Design, $29.99)

Hotel Granduca chef, ‘Tasting Rome’ author team up for April 11 dinner, book signing

Tasting_Rome_Cookbook-e1452785664145 Do artichokes make you think of Rome?

Pizza and pasta aren’t the only foods you can find in one of Europe’s great cities, and a local chef and Rome-based cookbook author are joining forces for a dinner on April 11 at Visconti Ristorante inside the Hotel Granduca, off Loop 360 in the Westlake area.

Hotel Granduca chef Tom Parlo and “Tasting Rome” author Katie Parla, distant cousins who apparently haven’t yet met, are hosting an event at 6:30 p.m. that will include a book singing and a four-course dinner featuring several recipes from Parla’s book, which comes out this week.

(Also coming out this week is a story in the Wednesday food section about making vacation plans — or at least vacation dreams — through international cookbooks.)

Tickets, which cost $150 per person, include a copy of the book. You can make reservations by calling 512-306-6424 or emailing proy@granducaaustin.com.

Verdure-Gratine-al-Forno_TASTING-ROME--2-
These baked vegetables with bread crumbs are from “Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City.” Photo by Kristina Gill.

Baked Vegetables with Bread Crumbs

2 red bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch-thick strips
2 white onions, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rings
2 zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 eggplant, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
1 Tbsp. sea salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the seasoned bread crumbs:
8 to 10 slices dry country bread, torn into bite-size pieces
2 tsp. dry oregano or chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp. grated Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano

First, make the bread crumbs: Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Spread the bread pieces on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until crispy and completely dried out, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, and pulse in a food processor until finely ground to the size of coarse coffee grounds.

In a medium bowl, combine the bread crumbs with the oregano and grated cheese. Mix thoroughly. The seasoned bread crumbs will keep in an airtight container for 1 or 2 days.

Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees. On a parchment paper-lined baking sheet or in an unlined casserole dish, toss the vegetables with the salt, then with 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Layer the bread crumbs on top, at least 1/4-inch thick.

Drizzle over the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and bake, covered with aluminum foil, for 30 to 40 minutes, until the vegetables have reduced in size considerably. Uncover and continue to bake until the vegetables are soft, 20 to 30 minutes more. Serve hot. Serves 4 to 6.

— From “Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City” by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill (Clarkson Potter, $30)

$100 road food, Peruvian quinoa sauce and other pages from my grocery diary

I’ve always loved grocery shopping.

I can remember shopping with my mom when I was a kid, like that one day we got up extra early before school so we could go to the new grocery store on the day it opened. (That store, called Ramey’s, is still open and is the only dedicated grocery store in my hometown. There’s also a Walmart Supercenter, the elephant in the cereal aisle.)

Every time I have to go to the store for work, I have to pinch myself. Is this really my job? To go to the grocery store and think extra hard about how the products get there, how they are marketed, what’s going on in the minds of the cashiers? To count the Instacart shoppers or people shucking corn right there in the produce section? To look at the buy-one-get-one coupons and understand how a company can still make money by giving away goods? To see a Peruvian pepper and quinoa sauce – sold under the Sprouts store brand, mind you – and marvel at American consumerism?

For the past few years, I’ve been increasingly interested in the grocery industry, for a few reasons. One, I shop there. When I first started writing about food, I felt incredibly guilty that all my food didn’t come from a farmers market. That was just me going through what I think is a common phase of food writerism (call it Food Writer 1.0), but now I have a much greater understanding of the totality of how we buy food. Just as there’s not only way to cook food, there’s not one “right” way to buy it. We need Big Food and Little Food. We need large commodity farmers just as much as we need the little guys, and we need to be able to see how locavorism is influencing the multi-national companies that used to have a monopoly on the whole shebang.

In an effort to expand my reporting on supermarkets and all the ways we acquire food, I’m starting a new series called Grocery Diaries. I have a feeling it will mostly be Instagram and blog posts, but I’ll start reverse publishing some of those in the good old print food section, too.

To get things started, a look at my first few posts, including what I did with that quinoa sauce, which was even better than I’d expected, and how much I spent on four days worth of road trip groceries.