Thursday, June 27, 2013

Outrageously addictive rosemary walnuts

Salty, spicy, sweet and crunchy.  Rich, earthy flavors of walnuts and rosemary.  And the total inability to stop eating these nuts, which make a great snack and are delicious with red wine and ruby or tawny port.

I make versions of these nuts from time to time, each one different from the last.  I think these are by far the best in terms of flavor and texture.  You'll want to store them in a single layer because I've found they're slighty tacky even after having cured for 2 hours at room temperature, but I think they'll get a little crunchier if I let them sit a bit more.

That is, if I can keep my hands off them.

Outrageously Addictive Rosemary Walnuts

     You might want to make a double batch...

2 cups walnut halves and pieces
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs. water
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. dried rosemary
2 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil (if using foil, oil well).  Combine all ingredients in a bowl, stirring well to coat.  Spread mixture evenly on lined baking sheet, separating nuts where possible.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring from time to time, which helps the coating to accumulate.  Cool completely and store airtight.  Makes about 2 cups.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Posh potato salad

Who can resist a well-made potato salad that transcends the ordinary, impresses your luncheon guests and makes a great meal on its own?

This version, an adaption from, is full of vibrant color, rich texture and most importantly, great flavor.  It starts with basic ingredients, acquires elegance from special additions and employs techniques to maximize flavors.  If you add grilled shrimp or salmon and build it on a bed of lettuce, it makes a fantastic and gorgeous meal.

Posh Potato Salad

     Definitely several steps above the ordinary...

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. dried oregano
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lb. haricot vert or green beans
2 cups frozen artichoke heart quarters, thawed
extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
1 large clove garlic, minced
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 lb. red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
4 to 5 scallions, finely chopped, white and green parts separated
1/2 cup roasted red pepper strips (about 3 oz.), cut into 2-inch pieces
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
4 to 8 large Bibb or other leaf lettuce leaves, washed and dried (optional)
grilled shrimp or salmon (optional)

1.)  Combine the vinegar and oregano in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper.
2.)  Whisk in the olive oil and taste for seasoning.
3.)  Heat oven to 425 degrees.
4.)  On a large baking sheet with sides, spread out haricot vert and artichoke hearts.
5.)  Drizzle generously with olive oil, then add garlic, salt and pepper to taste and toss with your hands until vegetables are coated.
6.)  Roast for about 12 to 15 minutes; remove pan from oven and cool to room temperature.
7.)  Put the potato chunks in a large saucepan of well-salted water and bring to a boil over high heat.
8.)  Cook potatoes until fork tender, about 10 minutes or more, reducing heat if necessary to simmer gently until just cooked.
9.)  Drain and transfer the potatoes to a large bowl; add the white parts of the scallions.
10.) Drizzle potatoes with on a few tablespoons of the dressing; toss to coat.
11.) Season with salt and pepper to taste, then set aside to cool slightly.
12.)  When ready to serve, add the green parts of the scallions, the haricots vert, artichokes and red peppers to the potatoes; season to taste with salt and pepper.
13.)  Divide among 4 to 6 plates and serve on a bed of lettuce leaves, drizzling with remaining dressing and scattering olives and goat cheese over all.
14.)  Top with grilled shrimp or salmon if you wish.  Serves 4 to 6.

Try this salad with Triennes "Sainte Fleur" Viognier 2010, a light, refreshingly aromatic white wine that is dry and a bit floral.  See your wine guy at Spec's for assistance with this and any other wine needs.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Half-way to Hades no longer

I live on the fringes of the Austin SMSA in Bastrop County. When I first chose to live in the town of Elgin, it was because I could get a lot of house for the money and some land to go with it. I had family in Elgin and it seemed like a good place to put down roots, finish some academic goals and become part of a community. It's worked out pretty well, mainly because I followed two important rules: Don't shit where you eat. And always import your love.

Like most small Texas towns, Elgin has a story. Formerly known as Hogeye (hence,
The Hogeye Festival), Elgin had a reputation as somewhat of a "wild" town in the wild, wild west, boasting the best of the modern day vices in frequent, copious and blatantly obvious supply. By 1890, Elgin had a population of 1,100 and there were seven saloons, along with various businesses and several churches.  But the saloons (and the private enterprises that sprang up with them) apparently made an impression. When the train came through, the conductor would announce “Hell-gin, half way to Hades, next stop!”

Boasting thriving brick companies, cotton gins, two doctors, a dentist and its own newspaper, by the turn of the century, Elgin had become a thriving depot town, benefitting from two major railways and eight passenger trains daily.  Elgin also became known for its sausage and has
earned a place on the map for one of the places to stop along the Texas barbeque trail.  For more about Elgin, its history and attractions, click here.
Photo credit: Unknown
Making a choice to live 45 minutes outside the city of Austin has been a good one: I scored a great house with almost an acre of land in a wooded community, my drive to the office is short and sweet with few traffic lights, I often see wildlife in the course of my day (including the man on the horse trotting alongside me down Highway 95), and there is no better treat in the spring than when the highway medians and shoulders are blanketed with bluebonnets, firewheels, paintbrushes and winecups, which immeasureably brighten my daily commutes.

I also enjoy meteor showers, living among plenty of trees and the family of owls that nests each year in my back yard. But living on the fringes of the SMSA also means that I often miss out on Austin's cultural events, food blogger events, great restaurants, movies, and convenient shopping. It also means that I am often unable to get ingredients such as Chiogga beets, Papillon roquefort, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and kumquats unless I make a regular trek into the Big City.

I know I sound like a whiner, but procuring good food is important to me. It has been painful at times to shop in my community grocery store because of its limitations, and because, at times, simply trying to find common items like fresh asparagus, artisan breads or wild salmon have been extremely difficult.  But we're finally experiencing some changes.

Recently, my local HEB underwent a major expansion and facelift. We got an expanded produce department and a huge deli, bakery and tortilleria department. We got a real fish counter (but sadly, not a butcher counter). And we got sushi, which I love and purchase quite frequently.

Rumor has it that the changes took place because we are expecting the construction of a major chain retailer known as W@$%&*!   I won't get up on my soapbox about bloodsucking corporations who exploit the people who work for them; I just tipped you off about my politics.  Nevertheless, I'm finding shopping at my local HEB a lot less painful. It's been totally revamped into a bright, clean, decently-stocked grocery store. I'm hopeful that we'll continue to see new items and enjoy an ever-widening selection of foods.
My HEB is halfway to Hades no longer.