19 September 2010

spinach and tomato tortellini soup and some meal planning

It's Austin Restaurant Week again and we're about to head out to Sullivan's Steakhouse for their ARW prix fixe menu. I promised Colby that we wouldn't eat out for awhile after this and I'm sort of trying to think about starting to eat healthy, so menu planning was in order.

lunch: spinach and tomato tortellini soup
dinner: chicken with mustard sauce, steamed broccoli, quinoa

lunch: broccoli + quinoa wrap
dinner: habanero chicken, spanish rice, grilled zucchini

lunch: spinach and tomato tortellini soup
dinner: spaghetti squash lasagna

lunch: chicken fajitas
dinner: Korean tacos

lunch: bulgogi wrap
dinner: salmon and potato hash with poached eggs

And since, it seems, it's been forever since last I posted a recipe, here's how to make my stupidly easy (and cheater) spinach and tomato tortellini soup.

1/2 medium onion, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 medium celery stalk, diced
2 T olive oil
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
32 oz (or so) stock (I used chicken, but vegetable stock works well too)
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
9 oz package tortellini
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 c lightly packed baby spinach
salt+red pepper flakes, to taste

In a large sauce pan or stock pot or some sort of cooking vessel heat olive oil.

Add in onion, celery, and carrots with about a 1/2 tsp of kosher salt. Sweat until the celery and onion become translucent and the carrots soften (about 5-6 minutes).

Add in tomatoes (liquids and all), crushed garlic, and stock and bring to a boil.

Add in the tortellini for however long they need. (I used a refrigerator package, so they only needed 4ish minutes.)

Reduce heat and add in the cannellini beans and spinach and stir until the spinach has wilted.

Season with salt and crushed red pepper flakes to taste.

So okay, fine, I've sort of semi-hoed this up, but it's better than going out for lunches this week .

13 September 2010

Hudson's on the Bend

Last night Colby and I made use of our Hudson's on the Bend Groupon deal. The coupon cost $50 for two three course tastings, which would normally be $100. Not a bad deal for one of Austin's most expensive restaurants. We made a reservation for 7:30 and were a bit late because we couldn't find the entrance to the parking lot. Oops. It didn't matter though, because they couldn't seat us right away anyway. They offered complimentary cocktails as we waited, but we declined. Actually, Colby declined and then the hostess ignored me.

When we were seated, the waiter asked if we were here for the Groupon deal. I thought it was pretty tacky. No, we're not 1000 years old and millionaires so, yes, it's likely that we're here for the Groupon, but let *us* tell you, don't assume. I suppose it didn't help that the biggest hipster douche evAr was sitting behind us with his scantily-clad girlfriend. Guilt by age-association, perhaps?

Anywho, first came the complimentary parmesan garlic bread in a tiny cast iron skillet.
The bread was surprisingly sweet. It was served with two flavored butters, one of which was some herb that I can't recall and the other was a chipotle tomato butter. The second one was really good and if you used enough you could ignore the faults of the bread, but the first one wasn't so memorable because it was overwhelmed by the sweetness.

We ordered the lemon saffron lobster risotto with asparagus tips in addition to the tasting menu and that came out next.
This was arguably the best part of the meal. The risotto was cooked perfectly, and the sweetness of the butter poached asparagus and the lobster balanced the lemon with the saffron tying everything together.

The first course came out. Colby got the salad, excuse me tossed garden greens, with a poblano-lime dressing. It was probably overdressed, but the bite I had was good. I got the chipotle lobster bisque, which came to the table disassembled. The waiter poured the bisque into the dish which contained a teeny tiny parmesan puff pastry "crouton" and a pitiful amount of lobster. It was a little awkward and unnecessary for a unremarkable soup.
My lasting impression of this soup was that it was terribly sweet, but still enjoyable.

The main course then came out: espresso rubbed smoked elk with green chile mashed potatoes and a pecan-encrusted ruby trout with like a corn-bread pudding.

The elk was served with a beurre blanc that the waiter brought to the table in a little pitcher which he then poured for us. Again, odd. The elk was, well, smokey. It was good and it wasn't at all what I was expecting. There are few meats I hate more than venison and I was expecting something like that. Instead it was beef-like in texture, but just tasted smokey. The beurre blanc was tasty and paired well with the elk. The green chile mashed potatoes were excellent. There isn't anything about that combination that's not absolutely delicious though, so... :)

The trout was served atop a mango jalapeno aioli and covered with an ancho sauce. The aioli was basically glorified tartar sauce and it was, out of all the out of place sweet aspects of the meal, the most oppressively sweet item. The ancho sauce, however, was very tasty and paired really well with the pecan crust. It's actually a shame that the trout was plated *on* the aioli because the skin+crust was actually really good. The trout was Colby's favorite part of the meal. The corn bread pudding was also sweet, but I guess that's not all that surprising.

The dessert course was next and Colby ordered the Chambord chocolate mousse with legs of fudge. I opted for the warm berry flambe atop homemade vanilla bean ice cream.
The mousse was served in a wine glass and the "legs of fudge" were just hot fudge smeared down the sides of the glass. It tasted like chocolate and that's all I can really say about it.

The ice cream was brought to the table in a martini glass with the berries in a little ramekin that the waiter then poured atop the ice cream. Pour count is up to 3... out of four courses. I guess five if you count the bread. Even still, if you were to hit .600 in a season, you'd be the MVP of the league. Except that pouring soups and sauces isn't the same thing as getting hits in baseball and it doesn't actually make things taste better. Pouring the berries certainly didn't help the fact that the ice cream was... icy. Ice cream should never have ice crystals in it. Either the ice cream wasn't properly chilled when it was made or, more likely, it was allowed to be melted and then re-frozen. Tsk, tsk.

Overall, it was a good dining experience; however, I don't think we'll be returning. Before the Groupon discount, it was a $180 meal for two people. I am totally willing to spend that much on a really special meal, but that meal better have some come-to-Jesus moments instead of instances that just make you go "oh, god".

10 September 2010

Say Ya to da U.P.! Also pasties. Say hells ya to them.

It's just past midnight and I should be doing something productive say, for instance, determining the surface temperature for a star that I've been working on. Instead, I'm eating dinner. Or rather, second dinner, but who's counting? ;)

Taking cues from this recipe (from a Yooper, no less!) Colby and I made a whole lotta pasties. No recipe here, but follow the link and you can't go wrong. We used 4 yukon gold potatoes, 1 medium-ish rutabega, two small carrots, a small yellow onion, and about a pound of round steak for the filling. Season with generous amounts of salt and pepper and stuff in some pie crust and you get these:

No, they're not so pretty (though, this is partly because the picture was taken with a camera phone in the middle of the night), but they're hot out of the oven and smell like heaven. And the taste? Well, they taste like Up North and being a kid. Served with a little brown gravy and some sour cream, it's like I'm 12 again and I don't even know what an existential crisis is.

02 September 2010

I fail

Ugh. This nablopomo thing is hard

01 September 2010

Cupcake Telescopes

Last month I spent a week in Boston working with my collabadvisor, Anna. Whenever I come to visit, it's sort like an astronomy boot camp. That week's highlights included figuring out the surface temperature of a few of the oldest stars in our galaxy, sitting in a Herman Miller Aeron chair for a few days, and baking cupcakes. Not just any cupcakes, mind you, but cupcakes that were appropriate for astronopalooza.

I posted a teaser of what was to come a couple weeks ago, but here is the whole spread, plus an explanation of the assembly. If you look at a cupcake and squint a whole lot it starts to look like a telescope dome. If you use Wilton nut cups, then they totally look like telescope domes. The only thing that I can think of that's better than an observatory is an edible observatory. Nom nom.

To assemble the domecakes, you must first to bake cupcakes and a half sheet cake. This is enough for about 12 domecakes.

Enough white cake mix (from scratch is best, because there's no reason these shouldn't taste good in addition to being totally cute) to make two 9x9 cakes
Wilton Nut & Party Cups
frosting (I used this recipe)
icing tubes (like these)
red wine glass

1) Preheat the oven to whatever it is that your recipe calls for. Grease ONE square (8x8 or 9x9 would work best) cake pan and prep the cups by placing one in each section of a muffin tin (or really, you can just put it on a sheet pan)

2) Prepare your cake mix and pour half the batter into the 9x9 cake pan and divide the other half among 12 or so of the cups. Fill each cup a little more than halfway. No more than that!

3) Bake the cupcakes and the sheet cake. The cupcakes will likely be done before sheet cake.

4) Allow the cupcakes and sheet cake to completely cool and prepare your frosting

Photo credit: A. Frebel

5) Once the sheetcake has cooled, crumble it and combine with ~6-8 oz of frosting. Start out small and add more if you'd like. This is basically a recipe for cake balls.

6) Take a scant 1/4c of the cake ball material and cram it into a wine glass. Don't fill it too high, or else it won't come out (see below). Take a spoon and loosen the edges such that you can use gravity to get it out the rest of the way.

7) place the dome of cake ball goodness atop each of the cupcakes and then generously frost

8) Decorate

9) Put them into formations of different observatories because you have 12 cupcakes that look like telescopes and, really, what could be more fun than that?

Now, pop quiz! Which observatory is which?

Photo credit: A. Frebel

Photo credit: A. Frebel

Photo credit: A. Frebel