You can’t go far in a bookstore these days without seeing a title with “hygge” in it.
Hygge (pronounced “hoo-gah”) is the Danish word for “inner warmth” or “coziness,” and it’s a concept that forms the backbone of this notoriously happy society.
In recent months, dozens of books have been published on hygge, but it’s an idea I’ve been familiar with for several years thanks to my friend, Nils Juul-Hansen, a Dane who has called Austin home since 2001.
Juul-Hansen can’t not talk about hygge, in part, because it’s everywhere in Austin. He says that even his Copenhagen-based mother has commented on our openheartedness and willingness to be authentic with one another. He finds it on his daily trips to Barton Springs or the new library downtown. That’s where we met recently to record an interview for our Austin360 podcast, “I Love You So Much,” that comes out today. (Click here to listen to the episode, which also features an interview with “Steal Like An Artist” author Austin Kleon.)
We talked about why this kind of connection matters and how you can really foster it during the Christmas season. He suggested turning off the TV and putting away the phone to do something that requires you to be present with someone else. If the weather’s nice, that might mean a walk on the boardwalk, a dip in Barton Springs or a drive out in the Hill Country. When winter settles in, you might be turning inward with a warm up of cocoa, a night of board games or a hot bath.
Juul-Hansen is emphatic that Austin is the most hygge-filled city he’s been to in the U.S. Here’s what hygge looks like according to the hashtag #americanhygge.
Where are the best places in Austin to find this kind of hyggelig interaction? The top spots that come to my mind: under the Zilker Tree, on the Pfluger pedestrian bridge or wandering the aisles of Whole Foods or H-E-B. I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments or through the hashtag.
Hanukkah starts this week, so it’s time to break out the potato shredder.
Gail Simmons, who was at the Texas Book Festival last month for her new book “Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating” (Grand Central Life & Style, $30), uses a food processor to make short work of what can be an arduous task, but the most important step is the one that follows: straining and squeezing the water out of the shredded potatoes. The latkes won’t stay together if you don’t.
In Simmons’ new book, the “Top Chef” judge shares this recipe for latke reubens. Combining two Jewish staples is an apple slaw that goes on top of the pastrami. It’s tossed in an apple cider vinaigrette, a tangy complement to the old school Russian dressing that she seasons with hot sauce and horseradish.
For the slaw:
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 cups shredded green cabbage (about a quarter of a small head)
1 Granny Smith apple, cut into matchsticks
3/4 cup thinly sliced red onion (about half small onion)
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
For the Russian dressing:
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon prepared white horseradish
1 teaspoon hot sauce
For the latkes:
3 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and quartered lengthwise
1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Canola oil, for frying
1/2 pound thinly sliced pastrami, slices cut in half crosswise
Chopped fresh dill
For the slaw: In a large bowl, stir together the vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and a generous pinch of pepper. Slowly whisk in the oil until well combined.
Add the cabbage, apple, onion, celery, and dill to the dressing; toss thoroughly to combine. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Let the slaw stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.
For the dressing: In a medium bowl, stir together all of the ingredients. Adjust the hot sauce to taste. The dressing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
For the latkes: Set a large strainer over a bowl. In a food processor fitted with the shredding disk, shred the potatoes and onion in batches. Add each batch to the strainer and let stand for 5 minutes, then squeeze dry. Pour off the liquid and rinse the bowl, then add the shredded potato mixture. Stir in the flour, eggs, dill, baking powder and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Scrape the mixture back into the strainer and set it over the bowl again; let stand for another 5 minutes.
In a large skillet, heat ¼ inch of canola oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Working in batches, spoon a scant ¼ cup of the potato mixture into the hot oil for each latke, pressing slightly to flatten. Fry over moderate heat, turning once, until the latkes are golden and crisp on both sides, about 7 minutes. Drain the latkes on a paper towel–lined baking sheet. Season well with salt.
To assemble: Spread about 1 teaspoon of the dressing on each latke. Top with a folded slice of pastrami and a heaping tablespoon of the slaw. Garnish with dill and serve. Makes 3 dozen.
Honey is a magical elixir. It’s the only food that doesn’t rot. It’s antibacterial. It’s sweet and thick and useful at every meal.
The folks at Texas Keeper and Two Hives Honey know how special honey is. For the second year, they are teaming up to host a Honey Festival, which will take place from 3 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 28, at the cidery at 12521 Twin Creeks Road.
The event will double as a release for Texas Keeper’s new Honey Thief Cyser, a bubbly fermented beverage made with apples and honey. Guests will also get to try meads from all over the world as well as other local products made with honey and bee-friendly ingredients.
Tara Chapman of Two Hives Honey will also give tours of a hive on the property so you can learn about beekeeping. Ten percent of ticket purchases go to the Houston Beekeeping Association to support the rebuilding efforts of beekeepers affected by Hurricane Harvey.
It wasn’t until Jess Pryles’ released her Hardcore Carnivore product that activated charcoal entered my house, and now I used that pitch-black meat rub on just about every steak I sear.
I haven’t started using activated charcoal in baking, but there are lots of bloggers who are way ahead of me on that trend. It looks like you can add a small amount to many different batters and doughs to get a darker color in the finished product. Most cooks say the charcoal adds more color than flavor, while others have mentioned a slightly charcoal-y taste.
Our beer/wine/spirits columnist Arianna Auber has a story this week featuring local spirit-makers who are using activated charcoal for spooky drinks this October.
Well before bartenders began co-opting it for pitch-colored cocktails, activated charcoal was popular with those who say it provides myriad benefits in the fields of health, beauty and science. Far more porous than the charcoal that barbecues your steaks, the powder traps toxins and chemicals, so whether it’s in your gut in the form of a capsule or on your face as a mask to flush out your pores, activated charcoal is both a bona fide poison treatment method and a popular home remedy.
Even though we’re all eating bugs (and parts of bugs) pretty much every day of the year, there’s a growing entomophagy movement afoot to get more people to eat insects, including crickets and mealworms.
Two local organizations are at the forefront of this effort. The non-profit Little Herds has been around since 2012 and is now a co-host of the Austin Bug-Eating Festival, a 10-year-old summertime event that encourages the exploration of insects as food.
In 2014, Austin became the official home Aspire Food Group, an international company focused on producing and promoting the consumption of insects. In addition to a farm in Ghana, they run a cricket farm south of Austin that supplies insects to some of the many companies now making insect products. They also sell their own line of cricket flour and protein powder called Aketta.
Many of the products available on the market contain the insect powder and don’t look like bugs, but Aketta sells roasted crickets that are fun — to me, at least — to pop in your mouth, especially this time of year.
You can find those whole crickets at Ingredients, the small grocery store store on Manor Road that sells a handful of insect brands, including Chirps and Seek Foods. Wheatsville sometimes carries Chiridos, a cricket chip, and Fresh Plus and Natural Grocers have carried cricket bars, according to Robert Nathan Allen of Little Herds.
The local chocolate company Delysia makes a cricket bark, and La Condesa serves the classic Oaxacan dish of chapulines, but it’s a off-the-menu, request-only kind of thing, so you might call ahead.
Be sure to check out the FAQ on Little Herds’ site to find out about why people with a seafood allergy should be careful and how to make sure you’re getting insects raised for human consumption.
It’s hard to believe this, but before 1996, you wouldn’t find raspberry chipotle anywhere, but in the years that followed, many specialty foods companies started blending sweet, smoke and heat in grocery store products. Fischer & Wieser continued to grow, adding more partnerships and products as the years rolled by, and last month, I toured their production facility to give you a glimpse of what goes into making the next roasted raspberry chipotle sauce.
One of their bestselling products is an amaretto peach preserve, an ingredient in one of the company’s most popular recipes, this pecan bread pudding that tastes like it has amaretto. You could easily add a splash of rum or amaretto to this dish when making it to add a more pronounced flavor, or you could rely on the jam alone for the hint of amaretto.
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
1 jar Fischer & Wieser Amaretto Peach Pecan Preserves
1 cup pecan pieces
6 loaves Mexican-style bolillo bread
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
For the sauce:
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 10-inch-by-14-inch baking dish with vegetable spray. In a mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese with half the preserves and half of the pecan pieces.
Slice the bread across as though for sandwiches and spread the cream cheese mixture between the slices. Replace the lid on each loaf.
In a large bowl, combine the eggs, heavy cream, milk, brown sugar, vanilla extract, almond extract, cinnamon and salt. Tear the bolillo sandwiches into small chunks and set into the egg mixture. When all bread is in the bowl, press down to absorb all the liquid. Let sit for about 5 minutes, then transfer to the baking dish. Press down gently to cover and flatten the top. Bake in oven till set and golden brown, about 1 hour.
As baking time nears its end, prepare the sauce by combining the sugar, water and lemon juice in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Let the liquid bubble without stirring until it turns golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Don’t let it burn. Stir in the cream until the sauce is smooth, then add the remaining preserves. Turn off heat and let preserves liquefy into the sauce. Remove the bread pudding from the oven and let cool about 10 minutes. Spoon sauce over the top and sprinkle with the remaining pecan pieces. Serve warm in squares. Serves 10 to 12.
Well, it took place Monday and Tuesday at the Travis County Expo Center, and I stopped by on Tuesday afternoon to check it out.
There were about two dozen booths with vendors who make noodles, broth, seasoning, dumpling, chopsticks, bowls and everything else you’d need to run a ramen shop. I was there right around the time the expo opened to the public, so you’ll see the lines growing at some of the ramen booths and hear from a local food truck owner about why he was there.
Vital Farms’ new ad campaign doesn’t mince words: Most egg advertising is (expletive.)
But a new Sanderson Farms ad says the same thing: Don’t fall for marketing gimmicks when it comes to eggs.
These are companies with different chicken-raising standards, different products (eggs and chicken meat), different farmers and different customers, but the ads look surprisingly similar. Same visuals. Same tone (silly meets warm agrarian life). And, for some viewers, the same WTF reaction that I had.
“With common sense here and some hearty food here, here a chicken, there a chicken, everywhere a happy chicken,” is one of the lyrics from that Sanderson Farms ad, which has a whole satirical website — oldmacgimmick.com — to support the campaign that pokes fun at the feel-good environmentalists who want to see the entire industry take better care of chickens.
Vital Farms, the Austin-based company that sells a dozen eggs for more than $5, is playing hardball for organic grocery dollars. It has expanded quickly in the past few years, signing on lots of smaller farms that can get top dollar for their free-roaming chicken eggs.
The latest Vital Farm commercial touts all that room while calling out other companies for using labels like “cage-free,” which can be confusing to customers. “Our chickens get 108 square feet per hen. How much room does a cage-free hen get? About one. One square foot per hen,” the farmer in the Vital Farms ad says.
A rep from Vital Farms: “‘Cage-free’ eggs are laid by hens that are restricted to giant indoor barns, with little more than 1 square foot per hen. Vital Farms pasture-raised and Certified Humane hens, by contrast, enjoy at least 108 square feet of open space each and can roam and forage outside whenever they please.”
In the ad, Vital Farms doesn’t specifically call out anyone for using “free-range,” which is now a different category of eggs that falls between “cage-free” and “pasture-raised.” It’s a third category that consumers need to know about it they are assessing all the options. These birds get only two square feet and access to the outside, but they aren’t primarily housed outside.
What’s a consumer to do? My answer: Think critically about all advertising, not just the ones from the companies you already like or dislike. Yes, it’s important to know that cage-free doesn’t mean that chickens are frolicking around in a field, but it’s also important to know that conventional farming might not look like the horror stories you’ve seen in activist documentaries.
I don’t think that either of these ads are winners — the Sanderson ad is too dismissive of the environmental concerns about raising chickens in confined spaces, and the expletives make the Vital Farms ad seem off brand for a company that has gone for wholesome imagery — but I mostly thought it was interesting how similar they are and how marketing firms are using the same advertising techniques, no matter which side of the story they are trying to tell.
CORRECTION: This post originally misstated the number of square feet per chicken at Vital Farms. The number is 108 square feet per chicken.
The world lost a great goulash-maker two weeks ago.
My dear grandmother died after a long summer of falls and failing health. She lived to be 87 years old, and for 60 of those years, she was the comfort-food-maker-in-chief of Aurora, Mo. She made lemon cakes for people who needed a little sunshine in their day and goulash — a casserole of ground beef, canned tomatoes and dried macaroni — if they were in mourning.
My family and so many people in her tight-knit community back home have been in mourning, but we’ve also been celebrating a woman who wasn’t a stranger to this food section a few states away.
In these pages and in real life, I called her Gaga, and I first told you about her in 2008 in my second column as a food writer. I wrote about how she always used to make peach pie when I traveled to Missouri for a visit to my hometown and the resiliency she showed when the pie she made for our photo shoot didn’t turn out exactly right.
I would always ask her for her favorite recipes, ostensibly for research on a column, but really I just knew that it was a gateway into getting her to tell stories about when she used to make a certain dish, where she got the recipe or the lives of the people she was feeding.
I complained once that I couldn’t find a lemon bar recipe that I liked online. She went straight to her pile of clipped recipes and pulled out one she’d cut from Guideposts. “This is Gaga’s internet,” she said as she handed me the recipe. It was exactly the one I’d been hoping to find.
Until just a few months ago, Gaga was still showing up every Saturday morning to make sack lunches at church. Her weekly effort to feed the community inspired me to pick up a Meals on Wheels route five years ago.
As her health declined over the past few years, I wrote about the changing roles in their home, where my parents were her caregivers and I was the one who would show up to surprise her with an upside-down peach cake.
Last year, my sister and I traveled to Sweden because we wanted her to get to see us go back to the ancestral homeland. We ate cinnamon buns and texted her selfies from the small island village where her grandmother was born. Last Christmas, I surprised Gaga with a Skype call with Swedish cousins she never knew existed.
All of my uncles, aunts and cousins gathered a few weeks ago to remember stories like this for her memorial service. We ate barbecue and potato salad, quiche and, at the funeral luncheon, not one but two kinds of cheesy potatoes, plus more chocolate cake and cookies than we could have eaten all week.
I’m grateful for the many years we had together, especially when food became an opportunity for us to deepen our conversations and our relationship. Ever since she and I made that imperfect pie together, I often channel her when I’m cooking something that feels like it’s gone awry. That moment when she just pieced together the cracked pie crust and didn’t throw her hands up in despair when things fell apart stuck with me. She fixed what she could, without apology, and moved on.
Gaga’s warmth, humor and good nature stuck with her until the end. For decades, she would quietly send newspaper clippings and birthday cards (and St. Patrick’s Day cards and Valentine’s Day cards) to a long list of relatives and friends.
She was the only person I knew who used the word “larapin” to describe delicious food, and she had this quirk of collecting hundreds of dachshund figurines, which she wanted given away at her funeral. (Her wish was fulfilled, including the one wearing the cowboy boots and a cowboy hat.)
Once, I stopped by the dentist office she’d worked at for years as a dental assistant to get fitted for a guard so I wouldn’t grind my teeth at night. The dentist, one of the countless friends in town who might as well have been family, wouldn’t let me pay him. “Tell your grandma she can just send one of her lemon cakes.”
Lemon Poppy Seed Bread (Moosebread)
This poppy seed loaf, which half of our family calls moosebread and the other half calls moose food, is easily one of the most treasured treats in my grandmother’s recipe box. Her recipe calls for butter extract and oil instead of butter, which gives you an idea of when the recipe was likely developed in some unknown Midwestern kitchen. To honor that legacy, I’ve kept them in this modified version. The only real change in my version is swapping out orange juice in the glaze for lemon juice. You’ll need two loaf pans for the batter.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pans with cooking spray and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine baking powder, flour, salt and poppy seeds. In another bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, milk, oil, extracts and zest. Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and thoroughly combine. Divide the batter between the two loaf pans. Bake for about 1 hour until middle of the bread has set.
During the last 10 minutes of baking, make the glaze by heating the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer for a few minutes, and then turn off heat.
Right after you remove the loaves from the oven, slowly pour the glaze on top of each loaf. Once the loaves have cooled, remove from pan and wrap in plastic wrap. Serve slices of bread at room temperature or warmed slightly. Makes two loaves.
With the start of fall upon us, it’s time to break out those recipes we’ve been saving since the summer.
This spin on coq au vin — a braised chicken dish we undoubtedly associate with fall and winter — comes from Annemarie Ahearn, the chef behind Salt Water Farm, a cooking school in Maine. She has a new cookbook, “Full Moon Suppers at Salt Water Farm: Recipes from Land and Sea” (Roost Books, $35), which includes many of the dishes she teaches and serves at the school.
Long ago, this kind of wine-braised chicken was only made with old, tough birds, but Ahearn uses young, free-range birds, too. Don’t worry about using nice wine in this dish. She calls for Burgundy, but any rich red wine will be suitable.
Red Wine-Braised Chicken with Mushrooms, Bacon and Herbs
3 cups Burgundy red wine
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 peeled garlic cloves, 1 whole and 2 chopped
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 (5- to 6-pound) chicken, cut into 10 pieces
8 sprigs Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken stock
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
4 tablespoons butter
20 cipollini onions, peeled and quartered, or 3 yellow onions, peeled and cut into eighths
1 pound mushrooms (creminis, oysters, chicken of the woods and/or chanterelles), cut into quarters
1 tablespoon roughly chopped parsley
In a medium-size saucepan, bring the wine, peppercorns, whole garlic clove, celery, carrot and yellow onion to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool, then pour over chicken in a large bowl. Cover and marinate the chicken for several hours or overnight in the fridge.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Tie the parsley, bay leaves and thyme together with kitchen string; set aside. Remove the chicken from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Strain solids from the marinade and reserve both solids and liquid. In a large Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Add bacon and fry until meat begins to crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a bowl. Increase heat to medium high.
Working in two batches, brown chicken pieces for 6 to 8 minutes, flip them halfway through, then transfer to a plate. Add reserved marinade solids to the pot and cook until the vegetables are soft, 10 to 12 minutes. Sprinkle in flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Whisk in the reserved marinade liquid, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 1 minute. Stir in the remaining garlic, chicken stock, shallots and salt and pepper to taste. Nestle the chicken and herb bundle in vegetables. Cover and bake until the chicken is cooked through, about 1 hour.
While the chicken is baking, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and the remaining olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add cipollini or remaining yellow onions and sauté until golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Combine the onions with bacon in bowl. Melt remaining butter over medium-high heat, add mushrooms, and sauté until tender, 4 to 5 minutes.
To serve, arrange chicken pieces on a large platter and top with sauce, bacon, onions, mushrooms and chopped parsley. Serve family style. Serves 6 to 8.