Back in 2014, Orsak and I made the journey over to Caldwell to judge the town’s annual kolache baking competition, and now Orsak is getting into the kolache business herself. Through her new cottage business, she’s selling Old School Kolaches, as she’s calling them, by the tray.
You can pick up to four flavors — apricot, pecan, fig, poppyseed, prune, peach and apple — for delivery to South and Central Austin at atmemorystable.com. A tray of 24 kolaches (or two trays of 12) costs $60, including delivery.
We tried these kolaches in my Relish Austin livestream last week, which is now sponsored by H-E-B.
At first glance, Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Dough might seem to be targeting the cookie dough ice cream fans, but upon closer inspection, you’ll see that it’s the people who love peanut butter cookies and chocolate — aka people who also love Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups — who will be seeking out this flavor.
The Brenham-based ice creamery often releases limited edition flavors, which sometimes sell out quickly. This flavor is available in 1/2 gallon and pint sizes, and it’s one of dozens of flavors you can order ($129 for four 1/2 gallons). to have shipped anywhere in the U.S. for You can’t place the order online, but you can call 979-836-7977 to find out more.
At a Costco, many shoppers head straight for the meat and produce aisles.
That’s where you’ll find mega packs of ground beef, chicken breasts, fish, sausages and pork chops that cost less per pound than what you typically find at regular grocery store.
Buying large quantities of meat can save you money, but you usually have to use the freezer to take advantage of the savings. That’s why a direct-to-consumer company based in Washington called Zaycon skips the middle man and sells large quantities of already frozen meat — we’re talking 40 pounds here — at more than 1,200 pick-up sites around the country. A few of the products, including the chicken breasts, are sold fresh/not frozen.
Zaycon, which was founded in 2009, has several large pick-up days planned for the Austin area. The company offers more than a dozen pick-up locations around Central Texas, and some of the sites have fewer options than the others.
Here’s the upcoming schedule and examples of what they are selling each visit. You can find out more info and place an order at zayconfresh.com:
Monday, February 12: Hickory Smoked Bacon, Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin Fillets, Wild Argentine Red Shrimp, Pork Sausage Links
Saturday, March 3: Ground Turkey, Pork Tenderloins, Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs, Sweet Italian Sausages
Saturday, March 24: Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
Thursday, April 12: Ground Beef, Applewood Smoked Ham
Wednesday, May 2: Chicken Tenderloins, USDA Choice Chuck Roast, Kansas City Strip Steaks, Pulled Pork
Friday, May 25: Wild Alaskan Cod Fillets, Hickory Smoked Bacon
I’d forgotten the story about how Ruby Red grapefruit came to be until researching one of my favorite winter fruits this week. Apparently, orange growers in Florida weren’t that interested in growing the then-bitter grapefruit that first arrived in 1823. Eventually, Texas farmers started experimenting with the crop, and in 1929, a farmer whose name seems to be lost to history discovered a one-off mutation that was bright pink.
From that single discovery, Texas now has a booming grapefruit business, growing about 10 percent of the U.S. crop. Arizona, California and Florida are the only other states with commercial grapefruit operations, but we know that those Ruby Red grapefruit — in varieties like Rio Red, Star Ruby and March Ruby — from the Rio Grande Valley are just about the best ones you’ll find.
If you live in Texas, you can walk into just about any grocery store and buy top-notch grapefruit this time of year, but if you really want to impress your friends who live elsewhere, there are a number of orchards that make it easy to ship fruit anywhere in the U.S.
A warning: These babies aren’t cheap. We’re talking like $25 for 8 grapefruit, but if you love grapefruit and don’t mind dropping the cash, this would make a really nice winter surprise for someone buried under snow up north.
Thanks to winning the Austin Food & Wine Alliance’s top grant of $10,000, the organization was able give more hours to Executive Director Lisa Barden, who became the organization’s first full-time employee a little more than a year ago.
For more than a decade, Keep Austin Fed operated entirely on volunteer effort. Founder Ira Kaplan gathered the first volunteers in 2004, and the nonprofit became official in 2014. It wasn’t until 2015 that Barden started volunteering.
“I’d watched a movie called ‘Just Eat It’ and was overwhelmed by the amount of food waste, but I was a little incredulous that that much food waste actually exists,” she says. After picking up excess food as a volunteer, she saw what the statistics tell us: Forty percent of food doesn’t actually get eaten.
The quantity of food surprised her, but Barden says she was most shocked by just how many people needed it. “That blew me away even more than the waste,” she says. “I got hooked. The warm fuzzies when you deliver the food is a powerful thing.”
Every month, about 20 to 25 businesses donate about 56,000 pounds of food — that’s almost 50,000 meals — that Keep Austin Fed volunteers pick up and deliver to more than a dozen partner agencies, including Foundation Communities, Caritas, Salvation Army, refugee communities, day habilitation programs and church food pantries.
The highest-volume donors, including Snap Kitchen, Trader Joe’s, Eddie V’s and the Westin Hotel, have scheduled pickups every week, but many donations come in by phone.
After they learn of a donation, Barden puts out the call to volunteers to see if someone is available to transport the food. The organization hasn’t been able to buy trucks or a van to move food, so volunteers, who have been trained in food safety and handling, use their own vehicles. They deliver hot food hot, and most organizations distribute it that way.
Keep Austin Fed relies on a small pool of about 70 volunteers, so they do have to turn away food sometimes, especially on the weekends. “We could rescue so much more food if we had volunteers with flexible schedules,” Barden says. “There’s so much more to be done. We’re hamstrung” by a lack of volunteers. (Interested in volunteering? Go to keepaustinfed.org to find out more.)
At some point, she’d like them to have their own trucks and cold storage, so they could keep donations cool overnight. For now, Keep Austin Fed’s lean machine will keep moving as much food as it can to fight hunger.
Keep Austin Fed accepts donations from anyone, but the food must prepared in a commercial kitchen and can’t have been served on a buffet or to an individual. Barden reminds potential donors that, thanks to laws passed in the 1990s, there are federal protections for people who donate food, so there’s no liability.
In 2016, Snap Kitchen donated more than 200,000 individually packed meals to Keep Austin Fed, and they are on pace to meet that this year. With such high volume, a Keep Austin Fed volunteer comes every day to the Northwest Austin store, where meals from all the area stores are consolidated.
Shaady Ghadessy, brand director for Snap Kitchen, says that the company has similar partnerships with food rescue organizations in Plano, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.
Ghadessy says Snap Kitchen employees become invested in the donation as they get to know the volunteers and learn more about where the food is going. “There’s an immediacy. You know they are headed to this place and this is what’s for dinner tonight.”
When Staci Brinkman set out to develop a subscription tea service, she knew she wanted the help of a sommelier to develop an algorithm to identify a customer’s flavor preferences.
In January, she launched Sips By (sipsby.com), which ships boxes of curated, personalized tea based around not only taste, but also how to steep the tea and its origin.
Four teas from among more than 50 different international tea brands arrive in the mail each month, and then you can rate what came in your box to help the Sips By algorithm pick even better matches for you in the next delivery.
At $15 per month, the box costs about $1 per fresh cup of tea, but you can resteep just about every tea at least a few times. If you get loose leaf tea samples, they include disposable tea bags, which I never seem to have on hand. The company is donating proceeds from its Texas box to Hurricane Harvey relief if you use the code “Texas” at checkout.
As we were searching for recipes and smoothie tips, I came across Daily Harvest, a delivery service that sends cups of frozen fruit (and vegetables and grains and other ingredients) to make dozens of kinds of smoothies at home.
The company sent a beginner’s box with six smoothies. Half were somewhat unusual flavors — chocolate and blueberry, cacao avocado and watermelon cucumber — and the other half more familiar: mango papaya, chocolate banana and berry banana.
They all contained superfood ingredients to sneak in as much nutrients into each smoothie, and the cups had these plastic lids with a place for you to insert your straw.
It was convenient to be able to pull out a cup from the freezer and fill it with liquid. We had to let it sit for a few minutes to thaw enough to blend in the blender, but once we did, it was a pretty good smoothie. Nothing remarkable, but it’s a good service if you make several smoothies a week.
Another feature to note: Daily Harvest uses organic produce that has been picked at peak ripeness and frozen within hours right at the farm, which means it has more nutrients than produce that has been sitting on the shelves in a truck or grocery store.
The boxes start at $47.50 for six smoothies, but if you’re already paying $8 each for smoothies, you might have fun experimenting with the Daily Harvest options. You can choose from dozens of flavors, including sundae-inspired line with ice cream. They also sell heartier options, such as overnight oats and soups that you can blend and serve hot or cold.
On a side note: We mixed our Daily Harvest smoothies with the new tart cherry flavor of WTRMLN WTR, one of four new flavors coming out (ginger, lime and lemon are the others). The lemon flavor actually came out last year with Beyonce’s “Lemonade” album, and the other varieties have the same prominent watermelon flavor of WTRMLN WTR’s original. It is squeezed from fresh watermelons, but the process intensifies the watermelon flavor. I love it, but if you’re on the fence about watermelon, you might not like even the flavored versions of the drink.
Austinites are spoiled with delivery options, but outside the metro area, shoppers don’t have as many options for grocery or food delivery.
That’s slowing changing as these companies, such as Instacart and Favor, expand their delivery zones, and this week, the Alabama-based Shipt expanded its own rapidly growing service area to include Killeen, College Station and Temple.
Shipt already delivers in Austin and San Antonio, and Killeen, College Station and Temple already have Instacart, which, like Shipt, partners with H-E-B to deliver groceries, but the expansion is notable because it indicates that enough shoppers outside the Texas metro areas are interested in having their groceries delivered that multiple companies can compete for business.
“Texas residents have been some of our most loyal Shipt members, and we continue to receive requests from new and current metros for greater access to grocery delivery,” Bill Smith, founder and CEO of Shipt, said via release. “This expansion is a reflection of this demand, and our growing partnership with H-E-B has allowed us to work in our shared mission to serve these communities, together.”
Shipt operates on a membership program, not unlike Amazon Prime. For $99 a year (or $49 if you can catch a launch special), members can get free, unlimited grocery delivery on orders over $35. The cost of the groceries is slightly higher — they estimate $5 higher on a $35 order — but orders can be placed as early one hour before delivery.
With the addition of 185,000 households to its current Austin and San Antonio delivery zones, the company now estimates that its service area covers 4.6 million households in Texas. The company has been in Texas since 2016.
Want to get a meal from one of Austin’s top chefs without leaving your house?
Rebecca Meeker was the executive chef of Jeffrey’s and Josephine House for five years before deciding last year to take a step out of professional kitchens and into a less shiny commissary, where she’s launched Lucky Lime, a meal delivery service that drops off healthy, chef-driven food once a week to customers all over the city.
The menu focuses on good-for-you food “that you’d want to eat on a beach,” Meeker says, and is inspired by her years cooking in high-end Asian and French kitchens in Taiwan and New York.
“I was at Jeffrey’s for five years, and it was where it needed to be. I felt confident that they could take over and grow it,” she says. “I had this big overwhelming feeling that I needed to do something different this year.”
She teamed up with Chris Duty, a startup founder and investor who is interested in healthy cooking, to start Lucky Lime. Instead of seeking out investors to go big, they went small, creating a curated menu and relying mostly on word-of-mouth advertising.
“It’s still just an idea in a space where it can start to grow,” she says.
She had to figure out how to develop meals that would be OK in a fridge for a day before being delivered to customers’ homes or offices, which was her biggest learning curve. She figured out that cooking the rice in coconut milk would help its texture in the fridge, and that you couldn’t use olive oil in the vinaigrettes because it solidifies in the cold.
In the height of summer, she’s serving lighter fare, such as collard green wraps filled with mango chicken salad or pineapple barbecue steak, but who knows how it will change this fall and winter. The poke salad will likely always be on the menu because it’s such a bestseller, but after a recent trip to Baja Mexico, she wants to incorporate some Mexicali dishes inspired by the hybrid farm-restaurants she enjoyed while she was there.
“The great thing is that I can change it every week,” she says.
Meeker calls this style of business a “floating restaurant,” inspired by the likes of the recently closed Maple in New York from chef David Chang. It’s the fastest way for a chef to prepare the things he or she wants to cook, without getting bogged down in building permits and loans to open a physical space. “The overhead is non-existent compared to other restaurants,” she says.
At some point, Meeker might add a to-go counter so people can get the food without ordering ahead, but right now, customers have to place an order online on Friday for a Monday delivery. They deliver all over the Austin area, and the neighborhoods placing the most orders are 78704 and 78701. Through her Mindful Lunches program, Meeker says she’s hoping to tap into Austin’s lucrative office catering business, where companies order meals for their employees.
Papi’s Kitchen recently ceased the delivery part of its business, which we wrote about in April as one of Austin’s first virtual restaurants. Owner Fernando Saralegui says hoping to continue to build the brand with events and other marketing avenues.
My biggest complaints have been that they are expensive and not environmentally friendly. I’m not paying $8 or $12 per serving for a meal unless someone else is cooking it, and those bulky boxes weighed down with ice packs are so heavy to deliver to my doorstep.
When I opened a recent delivery from Purple Carrot, the vegan meal kit company that recently expanded to Austin, I saw even more of the little bottles and jars and bags that are a convenience weighing on my conscious. The ingredients looked fresh, except for the spring greens (above) for one of the meals that I could see hadn’t fared well during the long journey to my office.
This kit contained the recipes for three two-serving meals: Sweet potato bao buns with kimchi, peaches, spring greens and lemon aioli; miso tofu with soba noodles, shishito peppers and beans; and cauliflower steaks with zucchini-poblano sauce and pistachio dukkah. Twenty years ago, I probably wouldn’t have known what half of those ingredients were, but they certainly meet today’s food standards.
I made the meal that looked the most interesting first, that sweet potato tempura served on those soft bao buns. As with all the meals, the cooking time took longer than the card stated, but I didn’t mind because I was frying batch after batch of thinly sliced sweet potatoes, a vegetable I had not yet cooked in a tempera batter. With the weird but delicious smell of kimchi and peaches behind me, I stood at the stove in awe of my abilities. (I forget that I’m a food writer sometimes.)
I was gaining a new skill as I turned each orange round, learning little lessons about how much batter should be on each slice, how hot the oil should be, when is the perfect time to flip. Even though I like them, I never buy those steamed bao buns, and I’d certainly never thought to combine kimchi and peaches. The spring greens that came with the kit went into the trash, and I replaced them with a handful of arugula. By the time I was ready to eat, I felt like I could open a food truck serving these sandwiches.
That meal left me feeling virtuous. I’d added a new dish to my roster. I could recreate this recipe another time, and my culinary life is better for it.
The same is true of the zucchini-poblano sauce I made a few nights later. After sauteeing the zucchini and pepper in a skillet, you add it to a blender and make this thick, nutrient dense sauce that added so much flavor to the cauliflower steaks. (The leftover sauce complemented the chicken tostadas we made later in the week.) You could follow that similar technique with so many vegetables to create a bright, healthy sauce to toss with pasta or serve alongside a seared piece of meat.
My doubts returned, however, by the time I got to the final meal. I love tofu and was surprised to see a slightly different cooking technique than the one I use, where you sear the tofu first and then toss with the sauce. (I almost always marinade mine first.) But that excitement waned as I started to get bogged down in the steps to make the two (very similar) sauces and instructions that called for making the soba noodles long before you actually needed to.
The recipe was also vague in several key places, including how much of the soba noodles to cook — the package they sent included four-and-a-half servings, but the recipe is only supposed to serve two — and what to do with the shishitos after they steamed. This dish also yielded too much trash. Three little plastic bottles and three plastic jars doesn’t seem like much, but when I start to think about millions’ of meals worth of these plastic bottles, I cringe. I’d prefer one bottle with an already mixed miso, vinegar and sesame sauce, but maybe I’m in the minority here.
UPDATE: The company responded with a comment about my comment on waste:
Since they are a plant-based meal kit company (and plant-based eating is actually the fastest way to reduce your carbon footprint), Purple Carrot consistently works to make their packaging reusable, recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable. For example, they recently reduced their box size by 38%, and all of the materials used in their packaging are made from post-consumer waste.
What I did learn from cooking these meals is that meal kits really are a path toward culinary discovery. The companies try to sell them as an easy fix to get dinner on the table, but I haven’t found them to be 30 minutes or less or, to be frank, anything my kids would eat.
But now I understand that you’re not supposed to order meals you already know how to cook or dishes that include ingredients you’re already familiar with. The hundreds, if not thousands, of meals available through these companies, including Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Plated, are almost like a try-it-before-you-buy-it program for new ingredients or new meals that you might one day cook on a regular basis.
At $10 per serving, that’s a pretty expensive experiment, but if you have a wide palate and deep curiosity, the once-a-quarter meal kit is an excellent way to plant some new seeds for the next time you’re in the grocery store. You can’t debate the convenience of having pre-measured ingredients show up at your door, but I still have reservations about ordering these kits on a weekly basis. When grocery stores get the hang of developing the recipes and marketing the kits (and bringing down the price), I will absolutely be buying them more.