Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Hour - Mandola's

I am a huge fan of happy hour - not only because I enjoy spending time with my friends when alcohol is on sale - but because food is usually on sale too. There are so many great happy hour specials around Austin I decided I need partake in happy hour more often. Today, like many other Americans I was off for Memorial Day. I got hungry around 5 and texted some friends to see if anyone was out and wanted to meet up for lunch. Everyone was either on the other side of town or lounging on their couch. I remembered thinking I had seen that Mandola's had some good specials from 3-6pm Monday-Friday and decided to venture out alone and check it out.
The specials for their happy hour are:
Margherita Pizza (serves 1-2 and shown in the above picture): $6.00
Pugliese Pizza - $6.00
Meat and Cheese Tray - $5.00
Bruschetta Checca - $3.50
Fried Mozzarella - $3.50
Zucchini Frites -$3.00
Garlic Fries -$2.00 [not sure why these aren't also frites]
Garlic Bread - $2.50

Beer (tap and bottle) is $2.00 off, frozen drinks are $3.50, and glasses, quartinos and carafes of wine are all half off.

They provide focaccia bread and olive oil to each table. I got a glass of wine (it was a Jules Cobb style pour - but it was a small glass) and the above pizza for ten bucks and change. I was so stuffed from the bread that I had more than enough pizza left for at least another meal. This place is much more low-key than a lot of the loud hot spots for happy hour - you know, the ones you can't find parking at - and is highly recommended if you want to catch up with friends by actually having a conversation.

Now mind you this was just a review of their great happy hour specials - I guess I'll have to go back and enjoy dinner from their full menu at a later time.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Carne Guisada at home

I made carne guisada for the first time several weeks ago.  It turned out good, but it didn't have enough gravy.  I cobbled together a recipe from a book and the one my wife uses along with her notes.  On our last two pots of carne guisada we've used prime top round from HEB.  Although it is prime it has only been about $6 per lb (since it's top round) and has been very good.  The extra marbling has made a big difference in flavor and tenderness.

Carne Guisada

Here is one of the recipes I used:,1826,145177-235193,00.html

The other was from "The Tex-Mex Cookbook" by Robb Walsh.  The ingredients and instructions were basically the same, but as previously noted I should have used more water/beef broth to make more gravy.  I also used tomato sauce instead of of whole or fresh tomatos because I think the sauce comes out heartier.  We like onions and garlic so I used six cloves of garlic and one half of a large onion.  We also do not use bell pepper in our cooking.  The book recipe adds potatoes, but since this isn't picadillo, that was never even considered.  The recipe says to simmer for 45 minutes and the book says one hour.  I left the carne guisada simmering for about an hour and a half.  With the right pot you won't lose much moisture which means you could basically simmer even longer if desired, or if you aren't really hungry and ready to eat.

Meat used:  Prime grade top round beef
Pan used:  Stainless steel 3 Qt. saute pan.
Recipe changes:  Additional garlic, additional onions, no bell pepper, no potatoes, replaced half of water with beef broth.

Carnivorous Adventures in Chicago

I haven't done a steak post yet, so I figured I would since I've had three fantastical steak meals within six months. The first was over New Year's Eve. The bf and I have an annual tradition where we eat at a different steakhouse for New Year's every year. It's really one of my favorite things that we do and I recommend it highly instead of blowing money at one of those NYE packages that come with watered down drinks. To ring in 2011 we ate at Pete Miller's. Sadly (and as usual) I forgot to take pictures and the one I did take was underwhelming, but at least serves to document the impressive size of the bf's rib-eye:

That's the size of my radius or ulna!

For the bf's birthday in May, we went to Gibson's Steakhouse. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this meal to its fullest because I imbibed far too much the night before. Sadness and le sigh. The bf's steak, though, was amazing. He chose W.R.'s Chicago Cut:

It was 100% meaty goodness, juicy and tender and just the right amount of fat to make it buttery melt-a-licious. Me, I had a tiny little filet. Again, sadness.

For dessert, Gibson's is RIDDIKULUS. They bring out cakes and pies the size of one's head. I saw everyone taking their dessert home, which begs the question? Why the waste? To be honest, the desserts aren't very good. I'm not really into "Excess as Dessert," but maybe it's your cup o' tea. We ordered the banana creme pie and it was of course too big for us to finish.

Last night we had some friends and town and re-visited our steakhouse choice when we rang in 2010: the Chicago Firehouse. This place does not disappoint. They have the best crab cakes I've had at a steakhouse...crispy crust but soft, fresh tasting crab. I had a filet flight - I love not having to make up my mind and appreciate when restaurants offer things like this. I got to taste the parmesan crust, horseradish crust and bleu cheese crust. My clear favorite was the bleu cheese. The bf tried the Kansas City cut - less fat than a rib-eye but touted as equally flavorful. He chowed it down so I'm sure it lived up to the expectations. He didn't share, so I can' t confirm. Our friends ordered a bone-in filet (so tender that the only complaint was it wasn't enough) and the Filet Oscar with a crabmeat crust (why is this called Oscar?). Pictures below!

Finally, I tried a Moscow Mule! I found it refreshing and delicious and would love to make it my new cocktail that I order at a bar, but I doubt your average bar has ginger beer on stock.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Taco Fail

Today I had some errands to run at lunch so needed to pick up something quick to eat. I had seen commercials about the return of Taco Cabana's Brisket tacos so I decided to pick up a combo. The tacos looked delicious in commercials and I've always thought its a genius idea to put brisket inside of a taco (especially inside the delicious flour tortillas that Taco Cabana serves).

I was expecting something that looks like this:
To my dismay (because I really do consider Taco Cabana a decent fast food place) I got this:

The taste was ok- not even close to what bar-b-que should taste like, but edible. I was really disappointed. The next time I want brisket tacos I'll visit Bill Miller's.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Austin's Pizza has a pizza with penguin on it?! What? Someone call PETA. I DO NOT want to try penguin.
Other than the penguin, this pizza sounds good. Especially since Austin's Pizza offers not only wheat crust but gluten free as well.

Please don't eat me.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Grocery Find - Strawberry preserves PSA

A couple of years ago I found some very tasty strawberry preserves at Costco.  It was Smucker's Special Recipe strawberry preserves.  I like preserves as opposed to jam or jelly because the fruit remains in larger pieces.  What reeled me in on this particular jar was the note on the label "more fruit", and indeed strawberries  came before sugar in the ingredient list.

I wasn't eating a lot of preserves at the time so it stayed in the pantry for some time before I opened it.  When I finally did, it was very good.  It had a strong strawberry flavor and the larger chunks gave it the texture that is missing in jelly.  Unfortunately it was so good we finished it quickly.  When I went to buy more, it was nowhere to be found.  Only the unappetizing-sounding Kirkland organic strawberry spread was at Costco.

A search on the Smucker's website made no reference to it or any other "Special Recipe" version of their preserves so that was clearly cause for concern.  In addition none of their current offerings had the same ingredient list as the special recipe version, sugar (or some variant) was always the first ingredient.

With ingredient list and nutritional information in my hand I made a second trip to the always crowded Costco.    I was heartened to find with a glance at the Kirkland "spread" that the ingredients and nutritional information were identical to the Smucker's.  Admittedly I don't like the spread aspect of it, but the ingredients are the important thing.

Using a Google search I was not able to find anything regarding the sameness of these two products.  So this is my PSA for people looking for Smucker's Special Recipe Strawberry Preserves.  Kirkland Signature Organic Strawberry Spread has the same ingredient order and nutritional information as the Smucker's.

So there you go Internets, load up your Google machines!

or, if you prefer, here's the CBS Cares (or maybe CB Scares) testicular cancer guy in his romantic bedroom:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dos Batos - Austin, TX

Driving around with a date trying to find food before a show at the Alamo Drafthouse I'm reminded of some praise for Dos Batos on the website that rhymes with "cow pound".  Their thing is "wood fired" tacos.  We drive into the shopping center parking lot and see a hand made sign near Conn's that says "Tacos" and has an arrow pointing to the right.  My date asks what type of food they have because she's really not in the mood for tacos having already passed up the choice of trying Torchy's for the first time.  "Uhh, I know when they opened they only had tacos, but I'm sure they have more than that now," I replied with false confidence.  Pictures and more after the break!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Refrigerator finds - Ancient history

I recently made a startling discovery which either displays my lack of cleaning skills or highlights my moving and packing abilities.  I was rummaging through the back refrigerator when I found this.

Y2K compliant relish
The shelf life of pickles is very long, and no doubt the expiration date the put on the jars must be at least two years from packing.  The top says "Best if used by May 00" so I would guess I've had this jar of relish since 1998 or 1999.  That would mean this jar has survived six of my moves.

What's the oldest/strangest thing you've found in your refrigerator?