El Mercado South – Thumbs Up

We enjoyed our meal and are planning to go back soon. I also noticed during our visit to El Mercado that they have a great looking quick lunch menu. I was working nearby El Mercado tonight so I decided to have my wife meet me at El Mercado for dinner. The décor was great; the restaurant was bright, colorful with neat decorations.

We were a little disappointed in the music which was an 80’s mix rather than Hispanic or South American. However, we were fortunate to visit El Mercado on Sunday evening because the margaritas were on special for $3.50 and the dinning room was slow and quiet.

House Park BBQ

I highly recommend House Park BBQ. It is fast cheap and pretty good BBQ. We love a good Texas barbecue joint that is rich in tradition. House PARK BBQ is a total dive which is part of its appeal. It has been in the little shopping center on 12th and Lamar next door to Flora and Fauna and the Tavern for over 30 years. They are only open for lunch. During our visit we tried both the brisket and the sausage. Both were good, but the sausage in combination with their BBQ sauce is very special and we will be back for more. The lunch was also very affordable, which my wallet appreciates. Oh yeah, bring cash! House Park Bar-B-Que doesn’t accept anything else.

Taco Xpress Taqueria

This was our first trip to Taco Xpress since the big relocation with the pharmacy many years ago. We were very impressed with all of the changes and additional decor. I can see how this place is so Austin eclectic. The restaurant was very well decorated and it has a great feel to it. It’s like your walk into a taco joint in Key West Florida. Everything seemed to slow down a bit and we felt really relaxed. There were a couple of disappointments on our trip but nothing that should stop anyone from visiting Taco Xpress and bringing their friends from out of town for the experience.

Gueros South Congress (thumbs way way up)

Gueros has been one of our favorites for years. Everything on the menu is dependably excellent. Gueros is a great place to take a date, family or friends. There is seating outdoors, a private party area and a courtyard for parties and live music. Gueros also has really good Margaritas. There Margaritas may look puny in the little glass they are served in but they really pack a punch. The open kitchen atmosphere of Gueros makes the experience even better. You can smell all of the great food being prepared and if you sit at the taco bar you can even watch the food being prepared. Gueros must treat their employees pretty well because I usually see a lot of the same wait staff people every time I visit. The food is always delivered promptly and the wait staff is always very courteous and on top of their tables.

I recommend anything on Guero’s menu but my favorite must be the El Presedente. This is a huge dinner so be sure you’re hungry when you order this treat. I also love Guero’s Enchiladas with Salsa Fresca which is a sour cream and avocado sauce. But be sure to order dessert when you visit. Gueros has an ice cream and praline with a brandy sauce that is absolutely killer.

How to Sprout Grain for Bread and Baking

Several years ago, when I was around 17 or 18, I first attempted sprouting grain and making bread from it.  A bread-baking veteran of 8 years, I knew bread making quite well, but sprouted grain was beyond me at the time and I gave it up.  Last year, I started trying again. This time, I used our 2 dehydrators (we owned one and then someone gave us another one) and mesh sheets to dehydrate the grain instead of the oven.  I bought some grain from To Your Health Sprouted Grain to compare with mine.  I now have conquered the tricks of sprouted flour and now I am attempting a new challenge, sprouted sourdough bread.  We’ll see how it turns out. I made my own sourdough starter, and so far, so good. :-)

Apple Pie Recipe

Apple Pie sounded good last Friday, so I searched for a recipe.  But I didn’t find one that suited my fancy so I came up with this recipe. Please excuse the not-so-pretty crust. I’m not an amazing pie maker. ;-)   I made the crust with sprouted spelt flour and it turned out a little crumblier than I would have liked, I need to work on that recipe.  But other than that, it was a hit and my grandparents loved it too!

Damson Juniper Berry Compote

Though it was windy the other day, we (I speak of myself and the little dog) braved the outside to pick some damsons, which have been hanging guiltily—or, rather, guilt-producingly—on the trees outside. I have never had fruit anxiety; living now with fruit trees has produced a new sort of responsibility: to make sure that their fruit is not wasted. And so, as I’ve watched the damsons get riper in recent weeks, I thought, sh*t, I better start thinking about jam.

This isn’t really jam, I have to warn you, though it’s close; it’s more of a compote. I intend to use it with meats, though it could also be used as jam is normally deployed (spread on toast, etc).

I have to confess, I don’t really like jam.Not having much of a sweet tooth, it’s just not my thing. Maybe this year will change me. I started with about 2 kilograms of damsons, and I still haven’t even dented the harvest.

Black Currant Jam

black currant jam
This weekend we picked the last of the black currants. It seems the best method of picking and the time-consuming ‘topping and tailing’ of the berries is to let your mother-in-law do most of the work. We ended up with about four pounds of them. While she worked I offered encouragement, assuming that negative reinforcement wouldn’t work in a family situation. I joke; I helped. I did get tired of the topping and tailing though. This would be a really easy task with a bunch of people and some good gossip. Proof that preserving deserves a party.
The jam was violently red while boiling away, and then turned a satisfying black.
Ingredients:
  • 1.8 kg (4 lbs) blackcurrants
  • 2 ½ cups white sugar
  • pint or so of water

Equipment:

  • large, heavy-bottomed pan
  • 6 jam jars
  • cookie sheet
  • ladle or jam funnel

Decant blackcurrants into a heavy-bottomed pan that will allow for evaporation. Add water to about half the level of the berries; they will cook down. Add sugar. Cook whole business down until it is pretty thick—we left a little bit of syrup so that the fruit would have a little suspension. In the meantime, wash jars and lids in soapy water. Sterilize the lids by dipping them in boiling water and allowing them to air dry. Sterilize the jars by placing them (opening up) on a cookie sheet covered in paper towels, and allowing to dry in an oven set to 160°C / 320°F.

black currant jam jar

When the jam is at a consistency that you’re happy with—highly reduced but still wet—carefully spoon it into the sterilized jars, making sure that there are no air bubbles among the fruit. Put on their lids and allow them to cool. As they cool, they will vacuum seal. If you have any doubt at all when you open the jars months later, or if they smell at all odd, throw it away! There’s no shame. There is shame in killing yourself by jam though.

Make sure to bring some jam to work to share and brag about, omitting any mention of how easy this is.

Cloudy Apple Juice

What you will need:

  • a stock pot
  • a lot of apples
  • a jelly bag, muslin, or a pillow case
  • a funnel
  • bottles

Ingredients:

  • apples
  • maybe a little bit of sugar, but probably not
  • other flavorings as desired: ginger, cinnamon, etc.

cloudy apple juiceIn light of the apple harvest, I thought I might make some apple juice for Tambo’s lunchbox. In the interest of not making life too difficult for myself, I decided to make straight-to-the-fridge apple juice, so that I wouldn’t have to bust my hump sterilizing jars and whatnot. A stock pot’s worth of apples made about 4 liters of juice, which I anticipate we will drink pretty quickly, hence the no-fuss methodology.

Like a fool, I didn’t weigh the apples I used for this, though chopped they filled a large stock pot. I didn’t bother peeling them–just chopped off the tops and bottoms, quartered them, and in they went. I added enough water to cover 3/4 of them, and let this burble away for about 45 minutes, then came at it with a potato masher. Once you’ve got a nice amount of wet pulp comes the fun/arduous part, depending on what sort of person you are, since it has to be strained through a jelly bag, helped along by you squeezing. Sterilize the jelly bag by pouring boiling water through it first; if you don’t have a jelly bag a bit of muslin or a pillowcase, even, will do, though you have to find a way to rig it up (my jelly bag has ready-made loops, through which I stick large wooden spoons, suspending it over a pot via the use of carefully-placed chairs). Alternatively, you could sit it in a strainer over a pot, I suppose, and let it drip and squeeze.

apple juice

So through the jelly bag went the pulp. I let it drip on its own while I did other things, but had to return to it to squeeze. This was like milking something. I squeezed and squeezed until I could get as much juice as I could out of the pulp, and was left with a beautiful, thick, cloudy liquid, which I returned to the first pot to heat while I added a really minimal amount of sugar to it (whether or not you need to add sugar will depend on what kind of apples you use, or what type of taste buds you have. For my 4 liters of juice, I only added about 3/4 of a cup of sugar. The usual admonitions apply: add a tiny bit of sugar, taste; tiny bit more; taste, etc. One can always add but not subtract, my friends.) While heating it you could add other things to it, maybe some slices of fresh ginger, or a bit of cinnamon–this batch was pure as the driven apple, though.

Out came the funnel, and into the bottles went the still-warm juice. I used bottles that I’ve had lying around, nothing fancy or new. If you were preserving this juice, all scrupulosity would apply, and new lids would have to be purchased, bottles sterilized, heat treatment, etc etc. Our fridge juice though, Bob’s your uncle.

Nigvziani Badrijani

eggplant

One night when Meg first got here, she cooked Tambo and I a big Georgian meal, the precursor to which was Nigvziani Badrijani (ბადრიჯანი ნიგვზით). She warned us that if we tried to eat too many we’d feel uncomfortably stuffed, but Tambo ignored her, had five, and was uncomfortably stuffed. He doesn’t mind though.

What you’ll need:

  • 2 eggplants/aubergines
  • A little bit of olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups ground walnuts (get out the mortar and pestle, or the food processor if you’re modern)
  • 1 cup finely chopped cilantro/coriander
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed (use mortar and pestle again, or garlic crusher if fancy)
  • A few tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • salt to tasteFirst, slice the eggplants lengthwise thinly; about 1/8 inch (3mm) thin. Fry thes slices in some olive oil (be generous with the oil, they’ll soak up a lot) until brown and set aside to cool.Next, mix walnut, cilantro (coriander leaf) and garlic with enough mayonnaise to bind it.

    Then, roll eggplant slices with a layer of filling shmeared within. Serve to party guests, issuing the standard warning that they are as filling as they are delicious.

    A few days later, with lots of eggplant and walnuts left over, we made a salad version of this. Sautée roughly-chopped eggplant and allow to cool. Then mix as above with remaining ingredients.