Quesoff, Austin’s big queso contest, was last weekend, and the event raised enough money for the Central Texas Food Bank and its partner agencies to serve meals more than 15,200 Central Texans in need.
The food bank was the beneficiary of the event, but there were queso winners, too.
If you’re looking for an excuse to enjoy some delicious food and cocktails while mingling with people who are involved in Austin’s food and nonprofit scene, you’ll want to know about Fresh Chefs Society’s fall fundraiser coming up at 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9 at a house in South Austin. (Link for tickets.)
The event, which is the wrap party for a year-long capital campaign to hire a full time executive director, will have a happy hour vibe with cocktails, heavy hors d’oeuvres — from Foundation Foods, Launderette, Olamaie, Bespoke Food Austin and Dos Lunas Artisan Cheeses — silent auction and music from DJ Mahealani.
What does Fresh Chefs Society do? In five years, nearly 500 youth in Central Texas have participated in at least one of Fresh Chefs Society programs. One of the organization’s primary functions is to match local volunteers, including everyday home cooks and professional chefs, with young people who are in the foster care system but are learning how to live on their own.
“Through dynamic (and edible) programming, Fresh Chefs Society is providing a new way of connecting community to youth through food and creating experiences that enrich their lives, enhance their connection to food and give them important life skills,” says founder Shaleiah Fox.
My weekly livestream videos on Facebook continue to be a fun place to try out new products from local and national brands. Every Wednesday around noon on the Austin360 Facebook page, I talk about what’s going on in the local food community and taste test products that I either find in grocery stores or that are sent to me as samples.
In last week’s video, I tried the new meal kits from Cece’s Veggie Co., the East Austin-based spiralized and riced vegetable company. You might have seen their zucchini or beet “noodles” or cauliflower “rice” at grocery stores, including H-E-B, but last month, they launched a new product line at Whole Foods Market — and soon at H-E-B — that includes the vegetables and a sauce, such as zucchini marinara or butternut squash mac and cheese. Although the company sells a squash mac and cheese with dairy, I tried the vegan version on the livestream last week and really enjoyed the texture of the squash “shells” and the seasoning in the “cheez” sauce.
I also enjoyed the chicken nuggets from Crafty Counter, the local company behind Wunder Nuggets. Owner Hema Reddy developed a line of kid-friendly nuggets that are packed with vegetables, and though some of the nuggets are vegetarian, others have a small amount of chicken combined with chickpeas. My kids and I prefer the texture of the Wunder Nuggets that have a little of meat, but you can sample all of her flavors at the Sustainable Food Center’s Farmers’ Market downtown on Saturdays. You can find the nuggets ($6.99) at Wheatsville Food Co-op, Central Market, Fresh Plus and Royal Blue, and through Amazon, Farmhouse Delivery and craftycounter.com.
You can go to facebook.com/austin360 to watch this week’s video or catch up on last week’s, where I also tried Austin-made Mad Pickles and explained why Con’ Olio’s freshly pressed olive oil made me reconsider the freshness of other oils in my cabinet. These weekly videos are sponsored by H-E-B.
Austin has long been considered a grocery store paradise.
The birthplace of Whole Foods and Wheatsville Food Co-op, Austin is also home to Trader Joe’s, Central Markets, a handful of Randalls and dozens of H-E-Bs. We can’t forget Natural Grocers, Aldi, Sprouts, Fresh Plus, 365 by Whole Foods and, the big guy, Walmart.
Suffice to say: We like to shop for food.
Food & Wine magazine published a ranking of U.S. grocery store chains on its website last week, and a reader emailed me to point out that Austin has a bunch of the stores in the top 10.
Although we don’t have the No. 1 store, Wegman’s, which is a regional chain in New York, Austin is home to Central Market, which took second place.
Two years after Whole Foods went public in 1994, lucky Austin, Texas, hit the grocery store jackpot once more. This time, it came courtesy of the state’s best-known supermarket brand, H-E-B. With almost Europe-worthy retail design, an overwhelming amount of fresh produce and exceedingly good prepared foods, there should be Central Markets everywhere — sadly, you’ll have to travel to one of the big cities in Texas and see for yourself.
Lidl, which ranked No. 3 on the list, is scheduled to be built in Kyle, but store officials haven’t said when. Trader Joe’s came in at No. 4, and the Florida-based Publix ranked fifth.
After a longer-than-usual season, the Hill Country peaches are dwindling, but there’s still a few chances to get some really good peaches before the season ends.
In Fredericksburg and Stonewall, you’ll still find a few growers selling the last peaches of the year, but if you can’t make it out to the Hill Country this week or weekend, you have a few days left to place an order for Colorado peaches that are part of the Northwest Kiwanis Club’s twice-a-year peach sale.
You’ll remember that I love these giant peaches that this civic group sells to benefit dozens of location nonprofits. They host one sale in July with Texas peaches, and in September, they sell 22-pound boxes of Colorado peaches.
This year’s Colorado peaches will be available to pick up from 8 a.m. to noon on Sept. 7 at Anderson High School, and the deadline to order them is Aug. 30. You place an order ($45) at nwaustinkiwanis.org/peaches. If you have questions, you can call Bob Kohls at 512-345-9496.
The event, which takes place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Fiesta Gardens, 2101 Jesse E. Segovia Street, will include tons of live music and free samples, but you can also buy jars of locally made salsas. Not all the salsas and hot sauces are super hot, but you’ll find plenty of those, too. Admission is free with a $5 cash donation to the Central Texas Food Bank, or three non-perishable food items.
Several restaurants will be selling their salsas at the festival, but to find one of my favorite salsas in the city right now, you’ll have to head over to Loro, the Uchi/Franklin hybrid on South Lamar that is becoming known for its ample parking and frozen mango sake slushies.
I’m partial to the gin and tonic slushy myself, but it’s this tangy, spicy, sweet salsa that I keep thinking about.
The restaurant serves the bright green dip with fried wonton chips, but if you can find the Pantai soybean paste at an international market, you can make a version of it at home and serve it with whatever kind of chips you like. The pineapple fish sauce is an infused ingredient they make at the restaurant, but regular fish sauce is fine.
Loro’s Green Chili Salsa
3 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/3 cups chopped green tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup Pantai soybean paste
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup pineapple fish sauce
3 tablespoons garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons Thai chile peppers, minced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
Salt to taste
Melt sugar in a saucepan with a splash of water. Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend. Combine all ingredients in food processor and blend, or for a more similar texture to Loro’s, use an immersion blender to combine. Salt to taste.
From El Paso to Beaumont, Texans love enchiladas, and every family has their favorite way to make them.
At America’s Test Kitchen, they’ve published plenty of from-scratch enchilada sauces, most of which require a blender, a food processor or a multi-step cooking process, but this recipe is a little different.
This version, from longtime America’s Test Kitchen recipe developers Julia Collin Davison and Bridget Lancaster, uses tomato sauce and dried chili powder and other spices instead of the whole, dried peppers you’d find in a classic red chile sauce.
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips
2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 cup water
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
1/4 cup jarred jalapeños, chopped
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (3 cups)
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, chili powder, coriander, cumin, sugar and salt and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in chicken and coat thoroughly with spices. Stir in tomato sauce and water, bring to simmer, and cook until chicken is cooked through, about 8 minutes.
Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer into bowl, pressing on chicken and onion to extract as much sauce as possible; set sauce aside. Transfer chicken mixture to bowl, refrigerate for 20 minutes to chill, then stir in cilantro, jalapeños, and 2 1/2 cups cheese.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Spread 3/4 cup sauce over bottom of 13-inch-by-9-inch baking dish. Brush both sides of tortillas with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Stack tortillas, wrap in damp dish towel, and place on plate; microwave until warm and pliable, about 1 minute.
Working with 1 warm tortilla at a time, spread 1/3 cup chicken filling across center of tortilla. Roll tortilla tightly around filling and place seam side down in baking dish; arrange enchiladas in 2 columns across width of dish.
Pour remaining sauce over top to cover completely and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Cover dish tightly with greased aluminum foil and bake until enchiladas are heated through and cheese is melted, 15 to 20 minutes. erves 4.
Barger is the co-founder of Eastside Cafe who went on to start HausBar Farm in 2009. Seven years ago, Gustavo came to live on the farm when he was two days old, Barger says. “He arrived in a box from the hatchery. I had to drive to the post office to pick him up,” she says in the campaign. “When I got him back to the farm, he jumped out of the box and took over the whole farm with his enormous personality, his huge heart and his gift for making people feel loved.”
On any visit to the farm, you’ll see Gustavo following Barger around the East Austin farm, keeping tabs on the rotating seasonal crops, which are sold to local restaurants.
It’s a sweet story in real life that Barger knew would make a sweet book, so she teamed with her mother, Barbara Adams, a painter, to create “On Gustavo’s Farm,” a new children’s book coming out this fall.
The authors are hosting several events in coming months to celebrate its debut, including a private dinner at 6 p.m. Oct. 13th in the farm’s outdoor kitchen space with chefs Michael CastiIlo and Emily Davis. The first general book signing event is “Cocktails with Gustavo” ($125) at 6 p.m., Oct. 20 that will feature drinks with Paula’s Texas Spirits.
At 10 a.m. on Oct. 27, HausBar will host a kid-friendly book signing ($100 donation for 2 adults and up to 2 kids) that will include the Tiny Tales To You mobile petting zoo, a book signing and “Gustavo on the Go” coloring activity station.
Barger is selling copies of the book and tickets to the book events through Indigogo over the next month, but the book will be available in other locations in November.
If you haven’t seen Texas barbecue through Wyatt McSpadden’s eyes, then you haven’t seen Texas barbecue.
McSpadden is the Austin-based photographer and longtime Texas Monthly contributor who has been chronicling the state’s barbecue culture for more than 20 years. In 2009, he published “Texas BBQ,” which earned him the title of “official barbecue photographer of Texas” from the magazine’s barbecue editor, Daniel Vaughn, and in the years’ since, he has continued to visit every barbecue joint he can with a camera in hand.
The result is a new book, “Texas BBQ: From Small Town to Downtown,” which features the many urban barbecue restaurants that have opened in the past decade, including Dallas’s Pecan Lodge and Cattleack Barbecue and Whup’s Boomerang Bar-B-Que in Marlin. Vaughn and Austin’s Aaron Franklin provide reflections on barbecue to accompany the images.
She adds a frozen butternut squash puree, which adds sweetness to balance the taco seasoning. The cup of taco sauce that she calls for is the smooth, tangy jarred salsa that will add flavor without the chunks of tomatoes. If your kids love salsa, just use their favorite, and don’t hesitate to use only a few tablespoons if you’re worried about it being too spicy for your tastes.
Everyone always assumes that because I write a food blog (and now a cookbook!), my kids must be fabulous eaters. Wrong! I have picky, picky eaters. Right around 18 months, each of them started rejecting nearly all healthy foods. I’ve felt everything from frustration, anger, shame and embarrassment over it. Yet on my good days, I realize their palates are still expanding and they won’t be like this forever. Case in point: My son now eats salads! Victory!
So I carry on, trying and sneaking: trying new foods, and when that doesn’t work, sneaking them into their meals. Cue this cheesy, one-pot Mexican pasta with squash, which sort of melts into the ground turkey, creating a slightly sweet counterbalance to the spicier Mexican flavors. Obviously, the best part about this dish is you can make it in about 30 minutes in one pot. The first time I made this, my oldest and youngest gobbled it up. The stubborn middle child? Well, we had a 1950s-style showdown. She sat there, crying, begging for a treat, resisting even one bite. Oh, well. Can’t win ’em all.
— Siri Daly
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground turkey
1/2 (1-ounce) package taco seasoning
1 (12-ounce) package frozen butternut squash puree, thawed
8 ounces uncooked pasta of your choice
2 cups chicken stock
1 (8-ounce) jar taco sauce or salsa
1 1/2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts (optional)
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the ground turkey and cook, stirring, until crumbled and no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the taco seasoning and cook, stirring often, until well combined, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the squash, pasta, chicken stock and taco sauce, and bring to a boil over medium-high. Stir everything up, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until the pasta is al dente, 12 to 15 minutes.
Add the cheese, and stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is thickened. Sprinkle with a bit more cheese and the scallions, if desired, and serve. Serves 6.