Smokey Mo’s – Austin, TX

On a recent trip to Austin, Texas, we rediscovered a BBQ joint that we first tried in Conroe: Smokey Mo’s. While I may have been enjoying them for a while and somehow never managed to blog about them, they are still producing very appetising and satisfying meals in multiple locations around Texas.

The run of side dishes is pretty standard, and everything is complimentary to BBQ meats, of course. Fries, potato salad, beans, fried okra, corn on the cob, right down to the self-serve bread, onions, pickles and jalapenos.

Trust me, I helped myself to the pickles.

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Two trays of pickles, just like this!

 

My partner helped himself to not one, but two chop sandwiches. The chop is loaded with sauce and chopped bits and pieces of meat. It’s mostly beef with the occasional turkey or sausage bits mixed in.

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Chop Sandwich before any fixin’s were added.

 

The three meat plate is an indulgent sampler of meats and sides. There’s plenty to choose from, too. I picked the turkey-sausage-sliced brisket combination with a double side of slaw. The second slaw was really for Christopher, but it sure makes the plate look as full as my belly got after eating all this.

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Three meat combo plate with two sides.

 

It’s always pleasant to find a bit of the familiar when travelling that’s not your run of the mill fast food. Visiting Smokey Mo’s was definitely a fit of comfort food in a weekend full of exploration.

Enjoy!

— Ann Cathey

 

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Pho Lee Vietnamese – Austin, TX

 

On a recent trip to Austin, some friends directed us to a little strip center restaurant to appease my partner’s craving for a traditional Vietnamese dish: pho.

Pho Lee Vietnamese Restaurant is a small, strip center restaurant. It is immaculately clean,t eh staff is friendly and the jasmine tea is always fresh. In spite of it’s seemingly small size, the menu is full of delights from pho, bun, mi, com chien, and Thai offerings to a small number of Chinese dishes. A little something for everyone who enjoys the savory, good-for-the-soul nature of Vietnamese foods.

We took it easy on our carb intake on this trip, sticking to spring rolls and pho. There’s so much more to try that we will just have to visit again, such as the Cafe Sua (Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk, served hot or cold).

Shrimp Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce

Spring rolls with shrimp.

The spring rolls were unexpectedly well done, with a thin and tender rice membrane containing lettuce, cilantro, bean sprouts, boiled shrimp, and served with a light peanut sauce.

 

Pho Tai Nam Gau

Pho Tai, Nam, Gau

Pho Tai, Nam, Gau
Pho noodle soup with thin slices of eye of round steak, well-done flank steak, and marble brisket.

Marble brisket has thin layers of fat like bacon, making it quite tasty.

 

Pho Ga

Pho Ga

Pho Ga
Pho noodle soup with thin slices of white meat chicken, and thinly sliced onion that melts in your mouth.

 

Side VeggiesCilantro, basil, lime, jalapeno and bean sprouts on the side, giving you the options of adding flavor and texture to your pho.

Hoisin, sriracha, a hot chili sauce and soy sauce were available at the table. By adding a bit to each spoonful, rather than the entire bowl, splendid combinations of flavors will keep your pho from homogenization on the palate.

When you are next in Austin and have some time for lunch or needs a hearty, satisfying supper, stop by Pho Lee and indulge your senses.

On the 1-5 scale, Pho Lee has earned:
Cleanliness – 4.5
Service – 4
Quality of food – 4
Flavor – 5
Pricing – 3.5
Overall experience – 4.5

Pho Lee Vietnamese Restaurant
2601 N Interstate 35 Frontage Road
Round Rock, TX 78664
(512) 310-8585

Enjoy!

–Ann Cathey

Cool Drinks for a Warm Spring

We are having a warmish spring in my part of Texas, hence the title of this post. Drinks like the ones below are great for any time you want a refreshing cool down, be it spring, summer, fall, or winter (if you live in Texas!). They have been popular on quiet mornings out on the porch, and lazy evenings when the sun starts to set.

The recipes below have been built from several sources and my personal preferences. The notes on substituting ingredients are from my own playing around with the recipes.

MOCHA FRAPPE
Prep time: 30 minutes
Servings: 2

Ingredients:
2 cups ice
1 cup strong coffee (brewed double-strength and chilled in advance)
1/3 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup chocolate syrup
Whipped cream and chocolate shavings for a pretty topping

Place all ingredients (not the toppings) into a blender and blend until smooth, adding more ice if needed.

Serve in glasses with whipped cream and chocolate shavings on top.

Refrigerate any leftovers.

NOTES: This mix is way too sweet for me, though it is definitely richly decadent.

I prefer ice cream to the ice, or coffee frozen into cubes instead of ice of plain water. This increases the richness of the mocha frappe without watering it down.

I also prefer to use the heavy cream with no sweetened condensed milk or sugar. While this may decrease the overall sweet taste of the drink, it will also pull down the calorie and carbohydrate counts significantly.

The whipped cream and/or chocolate shavings are up to individual preference, of course. Personally I don’t care for them (piling on more calories), though they do make an attractive presentation.

 

MIXED BERRY SMOOTHIES
Prep Time: maybe 10 minutes
Servings: 2

Ingredients:
¾ cup cranberry or cranberry mix juice (cranapple, crangrape, etc)
¾ cup frozen mixed berries (blueberry, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, etc)
6 oz yogurt, berry or vanilla
½ medium banana, sliced

Combine all ingredients in a blander and on high until smooth. It won’t take long, probably just a few seconds.

Pour into large glasses and serve.

Refrigerate any leftovers.

NOTES: Once again I like to freeze the juice in an ice tray if I have time. This adds extra chill to the beverage without any watering down.

Yogurt may be replaced with sherbet or ice cream for a variety in textures and flavors. For example, substitute the yogurt for lime sherbet, add lime juice to taste, and garnish with a slice of lime for a bitter-sweet alternative. A mellower alternative uses cranapple or cran-blueberry juice, blueberries, and vanilla ice cream. Experiment and find the flavors that suit you best.

In any of the ice cream variations, there are “carb control” ice creams available that may help those on low carb diets to enjoy these beverages.

I hope you have fun with them, and enjoy many happy moments with a cooling drink!

– Ann Cathey

Holiday Tips and Shortcuts

Time runs short when prepping for the holidays at one point or another for all of us. I’ve gathered up some tips and shortcuts to help you through the holiday season that have proven their worth in my kitchen.

Peppermint is Your Friend
Hard peppermint candy is a wonderful all-purpose garnish for the winter season. Peppermint sticks used as stir sticks for hot cocoa add a minty splash to each cup. Crushed candies can be used to accentuate cookies (see the cookies items below), cakes, and even sprinkled around the edge of plates holding sweet dishes or dusted over slices of chocolate pie. Peppermint isn’t the only mint around. Spearmint is also more available during this time of year, as are many other flavors of candy canes. Get creative with your combinations and surprise guests with a little something extra.

Spiral Ham Saves Time
A spiral cut ham, while a little more pricey, will also save a lot of time when it comes to carving. Guests may choose full or half slices, or even layering the meat into a roll for a quick snack later in the evening. Figure on 1/2 pound of ham per person. The saltiness of ham pairs well with crisp flavors such as apple, pineapple, and cranberry. A chutney of these fruits makes a lovely glaze for baking, and a colorful and tasty spread for snacking on those ham rolls.

Traditional Flavors – From Another Country
Take a step away from the usual at the dinner or gathering table by basing your meal plan in the flavors of someplace far away. Europe is full of possibilities, as are some places closer to home.
Surprise your family with a European flare. The flavors of goose, gingerbread, a cherry stollen, marzipan cookies, and mulled wine will are examples of foods that will change a holiday meal into something memorable.
Going with a Spanish flavors, using saffron, tarragon, fennel and cinnamon to flavor your traditional dishes. The change in spices will fill your home with elegant scents, and offer your family something they won’t be expecting.
A taste of Mexico is another popular change, usually done Tex-Max style. Instead of turkey and dressing, go with tamales and chili, refried beans, hot queso and queso flameado with tortillas and chips.
Let’s not forget Jamaica! Jerked pork, fruit salsas of mango and pineapple, sweet breads, and if you really want to go all out, try roasted breadfruit. The textures and flavors are amazing.

Cookie Exchange
If you find yourself in a time crunch for a cookie exchange, Bake simple cookies such as snicker-doodles or sugar cookies and dip each cookie half-way in chocolate. Add holiday sprinkles or crushed peppermint to add even more tasty appeal. Macaron style filled cookies are also quick with pre-made frostings that come in dozens of flavors. Store bought cookies can also be treated this way, though make them something exciting and special by choosing foreign imports (Mexico and England are popular). Gingersnaps and vanilla wafers make good sandwich cookies. Roll the edges of the filling with crushed hard candies to add color and a personal touch.

Holiday Cocktails
Bring the flavors of the holidays into your party season or family gathering with adult beverages based in apple cider. Mix dark rum, cider, and cinnamon in a pitcher to serve hot or cold. Cider is also a good base for brandy and mulling spices.

Use a crock pot to keep your warm drinks warm with a low setting. Serve as needed all night long.

Cookie Tins
Cookies make great holiday gifts. colorful containers, both plastic and metal are wildly available these days, making cookie gift giving simple and attractive for the holidays. Whether you buy specialty cookies, or bake your own, choose four or five of each type of cookie, place them in cupcake papers to separate them, and arrange them attractively into your containers. Each container should hold several different types of cookies. Make several containers at one time so as to not waste cookies! Use mini tins to make wonderful party favors for guests to enjoy after the event is over.

Brownie in a Jar
Another fun gift for individuals who like to bake is a recipe in a jar. Choose a pretty jar with a good lid. Mason jars are good for this gift, though other styles may be used. Layer the dry ingredients of your favorite brownie recipe into the jar. Recipes for cookies, pancakes, and other baked goods may also be used – the more colorful and different the layers, the better. Write out the instructions and wet ingredients on the back of a festive gift tag and tie it to the jar with a bright ribbon. Add a bow on top for that extra touch.

 

I hope you have as much fun – and time savings! – as I have had with these suggestions over the years.

— Ann Cathey

 

Springtime Adult Beverages

Everyone should know that “adult beverage” translates to “alcoholic drinks”. The following recipes have been gleaned from several sources, including a local grocery circular. They all have some appeal to us, and so we share them with our readers.
POMEGRANITE VODKA COCKTAIL
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients 
4 oz. orange juice
6 oz. 100% pomegranate juice
2 oz. lime juice
8 oz. Absolut Vodka
3 Tbsp. superfine caster sugar
½ Tbsp. ginger juice
1 orange, sliced and quartered

Directions 
Whisk together all ingredients to combine.

Divide among 4 glasses and serve over ice, or pour into a pitcher and pour over ice as needed.

Add a wedge of orange to the rim of the glass for a festive addition.

 

FIZZ BOMB
Hands-on Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients 
4 tablespoons powdered lemonaid
½ cup water
4-6 ounces tequila ro vodka
4 cups lemon sparkling water or ginger ale
8 scoops lemon sorbet

Directions 
Place lemonade mix into a pitcher and add plain water, stirring until dissolved.

Add sparkling water and alcohol. Pour into glasses.

Top each glass with 2 scoops lemon sorbet. Enjoy immediately!

Leave out the tequila for a great virgin drink.
SWEET BOURBON MOJITO
Hands-on Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Serves: 1

Ingredients per drink 
8 fresh mint leaves
1 Tbsp turbinado (raw) sugar
½ ounces club soda, chilled
Ice cubes
3½ ounces bourbon
¼ tsp almond extract
1½ ounces pineapple juice
2 tsp pure maple syrup
Pineapple wedge for garnish

Directions
Muddle mint leaves with sugar and club soda, then pour mixture into a cocktail shaker.

Add the bourbon, extract, juice and syrup. Shake well, then strain into an ice-filled rocks glass.

Garnish with a pineapple wedge.
BLOODHOUND WITH JERKY
Hands-on Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients 
3 cups tomato juice
2 tsp. prepared horseradish
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
Juice of ½ lemon
½ tsp. ground celery seeds
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 large dash Tabasco sauce
Celery salt or kosher salt
Lime wedges
Ice cubes
6-8 oz. vodka
4 sticks beef jerky (I like Jack Links)

Directions 
In a large pitcher, combine tomato juice, horseradish, Worcestershire, lemon juice, celery seeds, pepper and Tabasco. Stir well.

Place celery salt or kosher salt on a small plate. Rim 4 glasses with the lime wedges and dip the rims, coating well.

Fill the glasses with ice and divide the vodka among them. Pour in the tomato juice mixture.

Garnish each drink with a beef jerky stick.

For an added treat, garnish with a skewer of grape tomato, beef jerky, and a mild or hot pepper. This garnish adds more color as well as a dash of panache.

 

Remember, always drink responsibly!

— Ann Cathey

Cruise Cuisine – Pancho’s, Cozumel, Mexico

 

In the duty-free marketplace on Cozumel, our intrepid fellows insisted that we have lunch at a local establishment they were already aware of. It’s called Pancho’s, as might be expected in the tourist area, but the food was not typical tourist fare. It was delightful to have real Mexican cuisine instead of the Tex-Mex hybrid dishes so profligate in Texas.

I started off with a coffee, while some of my fellow travelers indulged in frosty adult beverages as seen in a previous blog. The coffee was a locally grown blend, dark and rich, and served with heavy cream. it was so good I almost didn’t order food.

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My empty cup.

 

 

My partner wanted to try a Mexican beer in Mexico. Upon finding out that Dos XX was available on tap, he chose to make that his beverage experience.

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for the meal itself, we went with a couple of dishes we are quite familiar with, wanting to know how they would be served in their homeland. He went with the queso flameado (as we had previously learned to call it), while I settle for the chicken flautas.

The queso came all melty, as we know it, though it came in a shallower dish, and covered in a mild green sauce. It was served with flour tortillas as we are also used to. Somehow it tasted better than anything we had experienced back home.

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The flautas were just as I had been told to expect in Mexico. There was nothing added. Roasted chicken was rolled into tortillas and fried. The chicken was flavorful, but without all the crazy spices Tex-Mex utilizes. The sauce it was served with was a little sweet and a lot spicy, just as I had hoped it might be. There was even a large spoonful of guacamole to help cool my tongue after the first taste of that sauce.

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We were fortunate to be able to get a table on the “beach” as the hostess referred to it. It was outside on a built up bit of sand, with palm fronds for a ceiling and a view of old coral coastline and sparkling blue water.

 

We thoroughly enjoyed the laid back atmosphere and the chance to sit and do relatively little for an hour or so. We hope to be able to revisit Pancho’s and try some of the more adventurous items on the menu.

–Ann Cathey

Breezes on the Bay – George Town, Grand Cayman

As an offshoot of our Cruise Cuisine series, allow us to share with you the stop we made on Grand Cayman for lunch.

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When visiting George Town on Grand Cayman, be sure to look up Breezes by the Bay ~ Tropical Grill & Rhum Deck. It’s a lovely casual dining experience forlunch and dinner, complete with a brick oven for pizza and Caribbean fare. While they do not currently have a website, their Facebook account stays pretty active.

Breezes is located in the heart of George Town with great views of the waterfront from just about any seat in the house. They focus on classic Caribbean fare rather than touristy food, except for the pizza, of course. That is a familiar favorite in many countries. They have a large lineup of tropical cocktails, too.

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What Breezes has to say for itself.

 

The folks working there were all very nice, though keep in mind that English is not always their primary language. There were some barriers, but we got over most of them with little trouble. Our waiter was a first-day employee, and while he was trying hard, one of my table mates later wondered, “What was that guy DOING?”

Our excursion group had to try a little bit of everything. From snacking on jerk seasoned fries (“I’ve never paid that much for fries in my life, but hey – Grand Cayman is ‘spensive”), to the local version of pepper steak, to the brick oven pizza, everything was a delight for the palate, if a bit pricey.

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Jerk seasoned French fries.

 

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Quattro Fromage – the four cheese pizza.

 

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Jerk chicken pizza.

 

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Cayman Pepper Steak, with black bean rice, cole slaw, grilled plantain and breadfruit.

 

 

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Pina Colada

Frosty drinks in hurricane style glasses give the place a festive feel, though they do maintain a full bar for those not into frozen concoctions. This Pina Colada was overwhelmingly pineapple, which drowned out the more delicate coconut flavor, though the rum was full bore.

 

We also gave a local beer a shot. This is a glass of Iron Shore Bock from the Cayman Islands Brewery. It gave us a light head over a clear brown beer with only a little lacing. The aroma was simple and pleasing, mildly hoppy with a flavor of caramel malts. Not particularly strong on the alcohol, but that allowed a nice smoothness to the mouthfeel.

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Iron Shore Bock

 

 

This establishment is on the second and third floor of it’s building. There are wide tread stairs, but no elevator available as of our visit.

On the 1-5 scale, Breezes has earned:
Cleanliness – 4.5
Service – 3
Quality of food – 4
Flavor – 4.5
Pricing – 2.5 (Grand Cayman can be expensive)
Overall experience – 3.5

 

 

Breezes by the Bay
8 Harbour Drive
George Town, Cayman Islands
Phone: +1 345-943-8439

— Ann Cathey and Cruise Cohort
Additional photos by Christopher