Oven baked spanish tortilla

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I  am crazy for tapas, and I have purchased many a cookbook filled with tapas recipes.  One of my favorites is Tapas: Traditional and Contemporary Tapas Dishes, published by Parragon Books.  (Available here from amazon.com).

One of my favorite tapa is the Spanish-style tortilla.  For those not familiar with the Spanish tortilla, it has little in common with its Mexican brother.  The Spanish tortilla is more akin to a frittata or an omelet, but also includes thinly sliced potatoes.

The classic Spanish tortilla requires some serious knife skills or a mandolin, but this oven-baked approach below is pretty fast, easy, and absolutely delicious.  I have made this for several parties, and it always disappears in a flash.   The recipe below reflects any modifications I have made and suggestions I’ve picked up after making the dish a couple of times.

Ingredients
Olive oil
1 lg. garlic clove (crushed) [TIP: You can use chopped garlic from jar to save time]
4 scallions, white & green parts (finely chopped)
1 green or yellow bell pepper (seeded & finely diced)
1 red bell pepper (seeded & finely diced)
6 oz. potato (boiled, peeled, and diced) [TIP: You can use 6 oz. of canned potatoes)
5 lg. eggs
½ c. sour cream
6 oz. grated Spanish Roncal, Cheddar, or Parmesan cheese
3 Tbsp. snipped fresh chives
Salt and pepper (to taste)
(TIP: Throw the vegetables to be chopped in a food processor to cut down on prep time).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a 7 x 10 inch baking pan with foil, and brush with olive oil or spray with cooking spray.  Set pan aside.

 

 

Prep all items to be chopped or seeded (using a food processor or other tips above to cut down on prep time).

Place approximately 1 Tbsp. olive oil, garlic, scallions, and bell peppers in a skillet, and cook over medium heat, stirring, for approximately 10 minutes, or until the scallions are softened but not browned.  Let this mixture cool, and then stir in the potatoes.  Set aside.

 

In a separate large bowl, beat the eggs, sour cream, cheese, and chives together.  Stir in the cooled vegetable mixture into the bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper.  (Warning: If you use Parmesan cheese, the mixture tends to be saltier than with the other cheeses, so use salt sparingly).
Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish, and smooth around until even.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown, puffed, and set in the center. (TIP: You can test by sticking a toothpick in the center of the tortilla.  If it the mixture is golden brown and the toothpick comes out clean, the tortilla is done).
Remove dish from the oven and let tortilla cool and set.  Once cool, run a spatula around the edge of the dish, then invert onto a cutting board with the browned side up and peel off the foil.  If the surface looks a little runny, place it under a medium broiler to dry out.

Let the tortilla cool completely.  Trim the edges, if necessary, and then cut into 48 squares.  Serve on a platter with wooden toothpicks.

 

Supper Friends

Austin is lucky to have a thriving foodie population, which offers lots of unique opportunities for new and surprising food experiences.  One of the more interesting hidden gems I have encountered lately has been the Supper Friends experience hosted by 2 Dine 4 Fine Catering.

Located on East Side near East 7th and Pleasant Valley Drive is 2 Dine 4 Fine Catering’s facilities, which include a beautifully renovated and totally charming bungalow called The Swoop House.  This spot plays host to 2 Dine 4 Fine’s Supper Friends experiences, multi-course meals designed by either the company’s own culinary team, or by guest chefs.  (An upcoming event on February 8, for instance, features Perla’s sous chef, Josh Venne).  The dinners are open to the public, with reservations available by phone at (512) 467-6600 or email at superfriends@2dine4.com.

We checked it out on a recent Friday night, and found ourselves pleasantly surprised by the beautiful setting, delicious food, and unexpectedly welcoming atmosphere.  We arrived at The Swoop House around 7 p.m. for appetizers and cocktails.  We were total strangers to the event, and did not know anyone else who was attending.

The Swoop House itself drips with warmth, thanks to lots of cozy lighting, beautiful wood, and charming appointments.  The bungalow includes a small bar with a handful of chairs as you enter, which shares a room with the first of three large tables for guests.  The tables, scattered between three rooms of The Swoop House, were decked out in white linens with charmingly mismatched white wooden chairs. Guests names await on place cards, as the catering team begins greeting them with trays of appetizers and a welcome cocktail.  (Be advised, though, that the rest of the evening is BYOB, so alcohol for dinner is up to guests).

The Supper Friends events evolved as a more interesting method for offering tastings to would-be customers of the catering team.  The team noticed that people enjoyed the tasting experience more where more people were sharing the experience, and the setting felt a little less rigid.  Thus, the Supper Friends events emerged as a way for potential catering customers to try out the meals for their upcoming events in a festive atmosphere, while also having the opportunity to see others experiencing the potential menu.

The night of our visit, a bride-and-groom-to-be were having a tasting of a Latin-inspired menu.  We sampled tasty items ranging from tangy sofrito nachos to an absolutely delicious pork carnitas tamale.  The dinner conversation was lively, and guests seemed truly excited and enthusiastic about the experience.  The chef and catering team did a great job of keeping guests informed about their offerings, and welcomed input about the quality of the meal.

The Supper Friends experience was one of the most unexpectedly enjoyable food experiences I have had in some time.  The menus and dates are announced by email on the Supper Friends mailing list, and are also available on the Supper Friends website.   The menu prices change, but generally run anywhere from $45-$75 for a multi-course meal. I highly recommend signing up for the mailing list, or checking out the menus online, and selecting one that tempts your palate.  I will definitely be checking out another Supper Friends event soon.

Bar Mirabeau

00 West 6th Street
Austin, Texas 78701
Phone: (512) 436-9633
Website: www.barmirabeau.com
Hours: Breakfast: Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-10:30 a.m.; Lunch: Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Dinner: Mon.-Sun. 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Bar: Mon.-Wed. 4 p.m.-12 a.m., Thurs.-Fri. 4 p.m.-2 a.m.

A few years ago, when Restaurant Jezebel closed its doors after succumbing to a fire, many Austinites mourned the loss of the inventive, delicious dishes created by chef Parind Vora and his team. After forays into the East Side (with Braise) and casual tapas/wine bar (with Simplicity), Vora and his team are lodging a serious comeback with a revamped Restaurant Jezebel, as well as its more casual sibling, Bar Mirabeau (named for the second President of the Republic of Texas, Mirabeau B. Lamar).

Bar Mirabeau, like the new incarnation of Jezebel, makes its home in the sleek new Cirrus Logic space on West 6th Street, just across from the Whole Foods flagship store. The space is equally sleek, modern, and loft-like, with a feel that is definitely more urban contemporary than the former Jezebel spot.   The focus at Bar Mirabeau is handcrafted–from breads, to gelatos, to lox.  We stopped by for brunch on a recent Sunday morning to taste what Bar Mirabeau had to offer.

We started out with the chilaquiles. Bar Mirabeau’s spin on this Tex-Mex favorite was a lovely dish served up in a stack reminiscent of pancakes, of house-made tortillas loaded with savory black beans and delicate goat cheese. The flavor was amped up with jalapenos, green onions, and roasted red peppers. The dish was finished off with a tangy tomatillo salsa verde.

Next up, we sampled the huevos rancheros enchiladas.  This dish included the usual fried eggs, but these huevos hid a spicy duo of cheese enchiladas.  This dish was much spicier than the chilaquiles, which I loved, but it could be too much for those who like to go easy on the heat.  The accompanying black beans and fresh pico de gallo were the perfect complement, and the roasted red pepper tomatillo sauce finished the dish off with a great, zesty kick.

Finally, we indulged our sweet tooth with an order of pumpkin pie pancakes–perfect for a cool fall morning.  This generous plate of fluffy pancakes truly captured the earthy spiciness that marks the best fall pumpkin dishes.  The accompanying pistachios offered a nice crunch, and the dollops of mascarpone cheese provided a touch of decadence.

In all, the meal was quite tasty, and the dishes looked fresh and lovely.  The service at Bar Mirabeau was polite and attentive.  The manager of the restaurant himself visited our table, asked after our meal, and handed out business cards with his contact information.  This spot will be a welcome addition to the still-sparse dining options on this leg of West 6th.  I am eager to visit again to sample the evening wares.  If the brunch was any indication, lovers of the old Jezebel have much to look forward to at these new spaces

Spin Modern thai

4005 N. U.S. Hwy. 183, Suite 1000
Austin, TX 78717
Phone: (512) 258-1365
Website: spinmodernthai.com
Hours: Lunch: Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; Dinner: Sun.-Thurs. 5-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5-10 p.m.

Austin’s Asian fusion scene has received abundant, well-deserved accolades.  But, when you think of inspired, beautifully crafted and plated Asian fusion, chances are, you are not thinking of a strip-mall location far north on Hwy. 183.  Well, I am telling you now, it’s time to recalibrate your mind set, because there is a new kid on the block that is offering up some beautiful, exotic, complex tastes that belie its unassuming location.

SPIN Modern Thai Cuisine is a bustling spot near Lakeline Mall on Hwy. 183.  Despite the suburban locale, the restaurant offers a very downtown feel, but with remarkably reasonable prices.  The dishes at SPIN are creative, unexpected, and made for sharing.  But be forewarned… you won’t find your run-of-the-mill Pad Thai at SPIN.  Instead, expect striking tastes, uncommon flavor combinations, and dishes that would have much larger price tags at many other spots around town.

The best way to  experience SPIN is with an adventurous group, letting everybody pick dishes to share family style.  The menu at SPIN regularly changes, and the kitchen regularly whips up daily specials based on availability and season.

First up, we sampled the Gai Tot Nuggets.  These crunchy, tangy bites married fried chicken with a spicy salted soy and ginger vinaigrette.  The nuggets were finished off with sesame seeds and fresh cilantro.  This dish was tender yet crispy, and the perfect mix of sour and sweetness.  We ended up ordering a second order because we polished them off so quickly.

We also tried the Baby Octopus Yaang.  This dish featured chargrilled baby octopus, which managed to be surprisingly tender.  The chewiness of the octopus was offset by crunch, julienned green apples and sliced cipollini onions and shallots.  The plate offered a zest of freshness from baby spinach, mint, and fresh cilantro.  A tangy tamarind sauce finished things off with a touch of heat.

Next up, we sampled the Panang Curry Fettuccine.  This dish was dramatic, hearty, and delicious.  Of all of the dishes we sampled, it was easily the spiciest.  Despite being designated as only 1 pepper on SPIN’s heat scale (suggesting it was on the milder side of their spicy dishes), some in our group were surprised by the punch of the heat in this dish.  If you like spicy dishes, however, this dish will hit the spot.  The Panang Curry features a coconut-milk based curry over buttered pasta with tender cubes of stewed sirloin.  The heat from the dish comes from serrano peppers.  The dish is completed with fresh Thai basil.  I absolutely loved this dish.

The star of our dinner at SPIN, though, was the Pad Cha Soft Shell Crab.  First, the presentation of this dish is beautiful.  The colors are vivid, the textures are unexpected, and the plating simply feels adventurous and exotic.  This dish takes fried soft shell crab, and kicks up the fire with Thai chili, basil, and very potent green peppercorns generously draping the dish.  The tangy sauce and fresh cilantro finish the dish.  The Pad Cha dish was unusual, complex, beautiful, and very tasty.  We have ordered it every time we have gone back since our first trip.

Make sure you leave room for dessert on your trip to SPIN.  Depending on your order, your mouth might welcome a bit of cool by the end of the meal.  On our visit, SPIN’s menu included two dessert options, both of which provided a nice, refreshing palate finisher after the melange of flavors during the savory portion of the meal.

First up, we sampled the fried ice cream.  SPIN’s version features ice cream surrounded by pound cake and tempura batter that is deep fried.  Crush peanut toffee and toasted marshmallows topped off this dessert.

Even more delicious was the Coconut Panna Cotta.  This dessert provided the perfect cooling and refreshing end to our spicy SPIN meal with cooling coconut milk panna cotta, a soothing ginger consomme gel, and mint.  Preserved lemon provided a zip of tartness, and candied pecans offered a salty crunch.  A caramel tuile offered a crispy finishing touch.

SPIN is the kind of place you want to visit again and again because the food is exciting, unexpected, and truly delicious.  Despite its location, SPIN easily feels like one of the more groundbreaking, experimental kitchens in the city, and offers up food with price tags that are a fraction of what the plating, creativity, and tastes suggest.  It’s worth a drive up Hwy. 183 to check out this inventive, tasty spot.

Sauteed chicken breasts with fennel

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We get biweekly vegetable delivery from Farmhouse Delivery.  In a recent delivery, we received fresh fennel, so I tracked down a recipe I had previously tried.  The recipe I used was from Food & Wine via Cooking.com .  The description below is the recipe with the modifications I used:

Ingredients
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lg. fennel bulb (chopped into ½ inch slices)
2 tsp. dried thyme (Note: recipe calls for rosemary, but I used thyme.  Either is delicious).
½ tsp. salt
½ c. chicken broth
1 1/3 lg. chicken breasts (approx. 4-5 breasts)
¼ tsp. black pepper
2 cloves garlic (approx. 1 tsp.)

Heat 1 Tbsp. of  olive oil over medium heat.  Add chopped fennel and 1 tsp. of thyme and ¼ tsp. of salt.  Cook the fennel, stirring frequently until the fennel is golden brown (approx. 12 minutes).

Add chicken broth and bring to boil.  Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the fennel is tender (approx. 3 minutes).  Remove the fennel and cooking liquid from the pan.

Wipe out the pan and heat  remaining 1 Tbsp. of olive oil over medium heat.  Season chicken with the remaining ¼ tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper. (I used a bit of extra black pepper here, but it’s completely a personal preference).  Add chicken and 1 tsp. of thyme to pan.

Cook chicken until brown.
(I’ve made this recipe twice now, and this is the point where I find the recipe a bit off.  The recipe says browning the chicken will take about 5 minutes, but both times I’ve tried this recipe, I’ve found this step to take 10-12 minutes).

Turn the chicken, and cook until almost done.  (Again, the recipe says this step will take about 3 minutes, but it has taken 7-9 minutes both times I’ve made it).  Add garlic and cook, stirring for approximately 30 seconds.

Add the fennel and liquid, along with 1/8 tsp. pepper.

Bring to a simmer.  Cover pan and remove from heat.  Let steam for 5 minutes.  (I omitted the parsley).

This is what the final result looks like.

I served it with risotto, but it’s also great with mashed potatoes.

Easy tortilla soup

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When the weather starts getting even remotely chilly in Austin, I get the urge to put together a cozy pot of soup.  Tortilla soup is one of my favorite Tex-Mex options when the summer starts to give way to lower temperatures.  Although I have some great recipes for totally from-scratch tortilla soup (involving boiling the chicken, making your own broth, and the like), sometimes, work, school, or life in general calls for a quicker option for the evening meal.  After some tweaking and experimenting, I have come up with the following recipe for quick, tasty, after-work tortilla soup that will fool everyone into thinking you have been slaving for hours.

Ingredients
1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped (optional–omit if you prefer less spicy)
1.25 lbs. of chicken breast, cubed
1 10 oz. can of diced tomatoes with green chiles
10 oz. of your favorite salsa
1 15 oz. can of black beans, drained
1 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
Juice of 2 limes
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. salt
2 cups water
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
Grated cheese (as desired)
1 avocado
Crushed tortilla chips (as desired)

Method
Warm olive oil over medium heat in large soup pot or dutch oven. Add garlic and onions. Cook until onions are tender and translucent. Add peppers. Cook 1-2 more minutes.

 

Add cubed chicken breast.

 

Cook until just done on exterior (no pink still visible), or approximately 5 minutes.

Add beans and tomatoes. Add salsa. (TIP: Use the can that held the diced tomatoes for an easy 10 oz. reference). Add broth, water, and all dry seasonings.

 

Add lime juice and 1/4 bunch of cilantro.  Cook over medium heat for approximately 45 minutes. Chicken should easily shred when the soup is ready.

For garnish, sprinkle grated cheese, crushed tortilla chips, remaining fresh cilantro, or chunks of avocado on top of individual bowls.

 

For even less after-work time: Throw all of the above ingredients, other than the garnishes into a Crock Pot or slow cooker on low, and let the soup simmer all day.

To cut a few calories: Use not only reduced-sodium broth, but also reduced-sodium beans, reduced-fat cheese, and baked tortilla chips.