Friday, May 16, 2014

West Campus Twisted Root Burger Company - AUSTIN DOESN'T GET IT YET!

Last week, I noticed that Twisted Root had opened up an Austin location, on 26th street just west of campus, between Nueces and San Antonio on the ground floor of the GrandMarc student housing building. We usually walk somewhere in the neighborhood for dinner on Friday night, if I haven't made something here, so we planned earlier in the week to take advantage of this new development.

James lived about the same distance from a Twisted Root Burger Company when he was in Deep Ellum. I've eaten at three TR's and have never waited in line less than half an hour to order. When we got to this outlet, there was NO ONE in line. Literally, the cashier watched us make up our minds. I have NO idea why Austin doesn't get what this place is yet, but I recommend you hurry up and eat here before they do.

The burgers are better than In N Out, better than Five Guys, as good as but along a totally different vein than Hopdoddy's... and the atmosphere is super fun. 

If you click on that picture to see it full size, you'll notice that the menu has Twisted Root burgers first. There are things like the Spicy Goat, which is a burger (hamburger, turkey, buffalo, veggie black bean, or whatever game they might have) with Chipotle sauce, goat cheese, and bacon. There's the Sexy Hawaiian with Jalepeno Jack cheese, teriyaki sauce, pineapple salsa and prosciutto. Or you could try the Enough Said with aged cheddar, house ranch sauce, and potato chips on top.

If none of their choices appeal to you, you can build your own with the choice of meats listed above, several bun choices (including one gluten-free), and a whole slew of toppings, including pickled red onion, peanut butter, fried onion strings, or a fried egg.

Although we forewent the side dishes tonight, I've had their "fried ride," which is basically everything, and they're all delicious. In addition to the usual fries, onion rings, and sweet potato chips, they fry green beans brilliantly.

They also have shakes, adult shakes, and drink specials. I had the banana and Bailey's Irish Creme shake in Deep Ellum (not tonight; I don't think people take kindly to the "I'm drinking for two" sight gag) and highly recommend that.

It looks like they have salads, too, but, really. Why?

After we placed our order, we got our name: Major Tony Nelson (from TV's "I Dream of Jeannie"). They actually gave us multiple choices rather than just handing us a moniker.

Behind the order station is the pickle bar, of which which neither James nor I took advantage. But if you're into that kind of condiment, then more power to you!

The dining area is fun, with lots of album covers, velvet wall art (yes, including a few Elvi and a unicorn), the leg lamp from "A Christmas Story," huge communal picnic tables, and this beer can peace sign.

We opted to sit outside.

But first, because I'm expecting, we always have to visit the ladies' room.

I really want this mirror. There was an awful/wonderful retro hanging lamp... Oh, and what's that? Graffiti? Already? On such a new place?

Yes. So. Back outside to the table to wait.

Check out the happy hour... hours. I can dig it. Oh! And then they finally call Major Tony Nelson, and my "master" heads out and comes back with these:

I got a Nathan's all-beef hot dog on a poppy seed bun with garlicky mushrooms and nacho cheese sauce. It was heavenly, and yes, Rooby and I ate the whole thing (much to James' surprise; he must not have been paying attention lately!).

James added ancho chipotle ketchup to his veggie burger with green chilis, garlicky mushrooms, and cheddar cheese.

Both of us loved our dinner, really enjoyed the gorgeous Austin actual spring spring weather, and basked in the relative slowness of business. Typically, our Twisted Root visits have involved scavenging for seats, talking above crowd ambient noises, and waiting a long time. This was heavenly. You should definitely get out and chow down before the rest of the town realizes that it's there!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Chocolate cake with chocolate fondant

I used to bake and decorate a lot. I love it. Then there was a hiatus when I moved into the RV for two years. I couldn't get the propane oven to cook evenly; everything was burnt down the middle where the burner strip was. Also, it was so small that I had to bake everything, each layer, each piece, one at a time. Then there was the reality that I didn't have anywhere to store what I'd made until I was ready to take it somewhere, both because of space and the evil cats. So, after a few tries, I took a break.

It occurred to me this week that I don't have an excuse anymore, so I decided to try again. Starting with something simple and pretty straight-forward. Re-wetting my feet, so to speak.

First, I made three small cakes using this recipe. Sort of. I was out of granulated sugar (believe that or not) so I used half brown and half powdered. I figured the excess moisture/cornstarch combo might cancel each other out.

Then I made this frosting.
Yes, I sampled a generous portion of this frosting.
I stacked and trimmed the sides of the cakes, but left the tops "fluffy" because they were already so thin, I didn't want to straighten them out, making them even flatter.

If I weren't using fondant, I would have done a thin layer of this as a crumb coating and then another prettier outer layer. But I didn't have to.

Next was this fondant, which requires that you wade through some typos or perhaps drunken typing. But you get the idea.

A couple of things about chocolate fondant: For me, anyway, it has to be kept thicker than regular sugar fondant. But that's okay, because it also tastes better. Fondant is sort of a "love it" or "leave it" prospect for most people, like Peeps or Circus Peanuts (fondant is actually a lot like circus peanuts, composition-wise). But chocolate fondant is richer and not as sweet. For the two parts sugar, there is one part cocoa, and that makes it a lot less treacly. It's described rightly as recalling Tootsie Rolls.

Adding the gelatin mixture in the well of the sugar and cocoa.

Use the dough hook! It gets really thick.

In any case, making fondant at home guarantees it will taste better than the stuff you buy in tubs at the store, and it's pretty forgiving, in terms of covering cracks and uneven spaces and being able to pull it off and start over if you mess up. But the even finish and keeping the cake inside moist is the main point of fondant, so if people eat your cake and leave the fondant, don't be offended. It's sweet, and to some people it's just too much. (I'm not one of those people.)

Fondant rolled and ready to move!

Draped over the cake.
With regular sugar fondant, you can even out the corners and make seamless edges. I haven't been able to do that with chocolate fondant, ever, so I wrap it like a present.

After a good trim.
Fortunately, you can cover the folds, and any over-enthusiastic trimming you might have done that allows some icing seepage, with frosting or other fondant or whatever you're doing to finish your cake.

Recently, I got a bunch of supplies from Amazon. This included a cool fondant kit I'm eager to use, but decided not to make flowers or anything for this cake, and I didn't want to pile the fondant and make it too much. I did use the sharp edge, which was so much better than my kitchen knives.

Also, when I was ready to do the final touches, decoratively, I was able to move the whole cake with this genius 8-inch cake lifter.

Oh, how I love this thing.
I used the buttercream recipe from the Wilton 53-piece cake decorating kit book. I learned that their pink gel is pretty intense, and I could have used less, because it came out super dark and orange-y.

Anyway, here's the final product. I made the cake for our small group, and the birthday girl will likely prefer a bagel, but that's okay. It was fun starting to get back into the swing of things, anyway!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Gelato World Tour

Long time, no blog! We were on vacation, so preparing for and recovering from that took a while, but now we're back, settled into the Nuthaus and enjoying our increasingly hot and humid surroundings.

Today, which also happens to be Mother's Day, my husband and daughter walked me downtown to Republic Square Park for the Gelato World Tour! Yes, that's a real thing.

If you're not familiar, gelato has less fat and air than ice cream, but most importantly (to me) it's served at a higher temperature. If you're someone who likes to let your ice cream melt a bit before you eat it, then you'd love gelato. Because of the higher temperature and less air, it "tastes" creamier (i.e. less crystallization) and, to me, more decadent.

The Gelato World Tour is what it sounds like, a chance to educate people about gelato, and it also has a competition element. Although admission is free, to get 5 tasting tickets is $10 (I got a bonus, I suppose because I'm a mother? or pregnant? I didn't ask questions!), and at the end, you use your ticket stub to vote for your favorite.

Here are some of the flavors I sampled:
Salted Pecan with Montmorency Tart Cherries & Tahitian Vanilla. This is from the Bella Gelateria gelato shop in Vancouver, British Columbia. The first thing I tasted, and it set my tongue on edge, in a good way, were the tart cherries. After that mellowed, the salted pecan kind of came up at the end and was a mildly sweet caramel finish.

Raspberry Beet from Bent Spoon Gelato in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Pretty straightfoward, flavor-wise. The raspberry was dominant, and the beet gave it the very beautiful color and a depth beyond just a berry-fruity flavor. I think it's raspberry enough that a kid would like it, though. 

This was a delightful pistachio gelato, but it wasn't part of the competition. The booth had a "Hello Kitty" flavor that looked like maybe vanilla (or white chocolate) gelato with some cherry or raspberry jam swirls. They also had a chocolate that Daphne got, and after she ate that cup, she said she was full, so James and I each got one extra ticket!

Goat cheese cashew caramel from Black Dog Gelato in Chicago. This was another very balanced flavor: sweet, but not too sweet. 

Profumi di Silicia. This was from the Versace Galeteria Italiana in Doral, Florida, and we had such high hopes for it. The ingredients included nougat, ricotta cheese canoli, pistachio grains, and chocolate chips. As a footnote, it mentions "lightly flavored with orange zest" and swirled with caramel. However. The main flavor that came through was orange zest. Not in an "I'm an awesome foil to dark chocolate" way, either. It was bitter and totally eclipsed the caramel or chocolate or pistachio and definitely the mild ricotta. Oh well. 

Sweet G's Candied Bacon from Sweet Ginger's Gelato in Fort Myers, Florida. This one delivered on its promise. The tiny bits of candied bacon added a smoky contrast and textural difference to the creamy gelato. There was also the nice additional flavor boost from some cinnamon. Delicious.

This was James' turtle gelato from The Turtle Gelateria in Brownwood, Texas. It's only 2 hours from here, but since we just drove through it last week on the last leg of our 900+ mile road trip, we're going to hold off visiting for a while. James and Daphne tried several other flavors that I didn't: Chocolate Guinness Caramel Crunch (which James said I would have hated, what with my not liking beer in general and probably stout specifically; he enjoyed it, though); Carmastachio, which was marscapone swirled with caramel and pistachio; and Nuts, peanut butter and chocolate hazelnut. Fortunately, that last one was from here in Austin, so I can try it some time!

This, though. This is the one for which we voted. It's the only one that James got, and after I tasted it, I had to go back and get my own. It was La Grande Bellezza, or the Great Beauty. Avocado basil. If you know me at all, you know I'm all for using avocado as a substitute for pretty much any fat in any food. I love it. And the basil is a perfect complement, giving a spike to the otherwise pretty laid back flavor of avocado. There was also some sea salt, and though this was a dessert, it was not, by virtue of the ingredients, overly sweet. Definitely our favorite.

I can't wait to see who won!