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

Waldorf Salads

Waldorf Salads have a long history in America, as noted in the exceprt from the Wikipedia page below. As Americans are wont to do, things have changed to suit different tastes over the years since it’s initial creation, giving us numerous ways to prepare and enjoy them.

From Wikipedia: “A Waldorf salad is a salad generally made of fresh apples, celery, grapes and walnuts, dressed in mayonnaise, and usually served on a bed of lettuce as an appetizer or a light meal.

The Waldorf salad was first created for a charity ball given in honor of the St. Mary’s Hospital for Children on March 14, 1893 at the Waldorf hotel in New York City. Oscar Tschirky, who was the Waldorf’s maître d’hôtel and developed or inspired many of its signature dishes, is widely credited with creating the recipe. In 1896 the salad appeared in The Cook Book by “Oscar of the Waldorf”.

The original recipe did not contain nuts, but they had been added by the time the recipe appeared in The Rector Cook Book in 1928.

Other ingredients, such as chicken, turkey, grapes, and dried fruit (e.g. dates or raisins) are sometimes added. Updated versions of the salad sometimes change the dressing to a seasoned mayonnaise or a yogurt dressing. A variation known as an Emerald Salad replaces celery with cauliflower. The salad also may include zest of oranges and lemons.

One thing about Waldorf style salads is that they are chunky rather than smooth. This allows an individual to experience not a mash of flavors, but individual spikes of flavor and texture. That aspect has always appealed to me personally, and has led to some outlandish tuna salad coming out of my kitchen!

CHICKEN WALDORF SALAD
Prep Time: 20-30 minutes
Servings: 4-6
Ingredients
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 cup seedless red grapes, halved
1 large Gala apple, diced
1 cup diced celery
1 cup mayonnaise Salt and pepper to taste
Directions
Place all cut ingredients into a large bowl.

Add mayo on top and fold together gently.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on a bed of greens.

 

TUNA WALDORF SALAD
Prep Time: 20-30 minutes
Servings: 4-6

Ingredients
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
2 12 ounce cans tuna in water (albacore recommended), drained
1 cup seedless red grapes, halved
1 large Granny Smith apple, diced
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup brown mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Place all cut ingredients into a large bowl.

Add mayo on top and fold together. Be gentle so the tuna remains chunky.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on a bed of greens.

 

The Meat
Meat was not originally an ingredient in Waldorf salads, though it has become very popular over time. Chicken is likely the most popular protein source in use in the United States, though tuna, cubed ham and beef, turkey, and venison have all been seen in Waldorf style recipes. Leftover or broken meats are a popular source.

The Nuts
Nuts are also a later addition to the Waldorf salad. Use nuts that add a contrasting element to your salad. Walnuts are a dryer flavor with a softer texture. Pecans add a subtle sweetness and a stronger flavor. Almonds, whether they are whole, blanched, slivered or sliced, add a definitive hard texture and savory flavor.Pine nuts are generally smaller and have a popping mouth feel. Match your nut choice to your other ingredients and your individual tastes.

The Fruit
Grapes and apples are the tradition. Red grapes are the usual choice due to their size and sweetness.

Apples come in so many varieties that choosing one to your tastes can be problematic. The choices in the recipes above were made as examples of the use of a sweet apple and a tart one. Gala, Pink Lady, and a host of other firmly fleshed, round, sweet apples are available in most grocery stores. Granny Smith on the other hand is a consistently tart, firm apple that adds a bit of punch to the combined ingredients. Choose an apple that suits your tastes.

Celery
This is one ingredient I don’t particularly care for the taste of, but a lot of people do. It’s mildly sweet with extremely firm flesh, and adds a lot of fiber to the dish. Choose fresh stalks. De-vein them, removing the hard, fibrous strings from the backs of the ribs, and shop them into appropriately sized pieces. The leafy tops can even be used as a garnish for a finished salad.

The Binders
Mayonaise is the base binder for the Waldorf style salad. Adding spices, different types of mustard, or other similarly textures sauces can dress your salad up or down. Brown and honey mustard are quite popular.

The Spices
Be aware of the amount of salt, pepper or other spices used to cook the meat you use. This will add flavor to the salad and may negate the use of additional salt in your dish.
Curry is another wonderful addition to the Waldorf style salad. It adds a distinctive aroma and flavor to the other ingredients, and the sweet notes become more pronounced.

The Greens
Fresh baby spinach or mixed greens are used often as the serving base for Waldorf salads, though it’s very likely in the beginning to have been a pretty Romaine. Use what you like. Arugula is bitter, iceberg is mild, spinach has a texture all it’s own.

 

I hope you’ve found this dissection of the Waldorf salad as enlightening as I did writing it. This has been one of my favorite types of salad since I was a child, and is likely to remain on my personal menu for many years to come.

Enjoy!

— Ann Cathey

Reuben Pie

On a road trip about 15 years ago, I had a culinary epiphany. Little did I know how well the
initial test would turn out, or how much demand there would be. I conceived something we like to call Reuben Pie.

If you like Reuben sandwiches , you’re likely going to love this one. For those not in the know, the Reuben is an American hot sandwich composed of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing, grilled between slices of rye bread. There are plenty of variations out there, but only one real Reuben.

This dish is not an inexpensive one due to the ingredients, and it’s deceptive in it’s
simplicity. Making one, let alone two of these things is a labor of love.
Rueben Pie
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 8

Ingredients:
1 raw pizza crust or preferred dough
2 lbs corned beef sliced at 0.5

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Grated Swiss cheese

1 pound Swiss cheese, shredded or grated
1 15 oz jar of sauerkraut, drained, rinsed, and pressed
1 bottle Thousand Island or Russian salad dressing
10″ spring-form pan
Parchment paper

Directions:

Grate the cheese and set aside.

Drain, rinse and press as much water as you can out of the sauerkraut.

Line the bottom of a spring-form pan with parchment paper and lock the ring in place. You may cut away the excess paper on the outside of the ring, or leave it for a larger “handle” when removing the pie after baking. If your pans are non-stick, don’t bother spraying them olive oil. If using a cast iron or other pan, spray the sides and line the bottom as with the spring-form.

Roll out the pizza crust and fit it into the pan. Be sure to cover the bottom and sides,
pinching any seams or holes closed, and pushing the dough into the edge where the side meets the bottom. You may have to cut away corners and pinch them in to fill gaps along the sides.

Place in a 400F oven for about ten minutes to give the crust a little more definition. If you
have an extra pan that will fit to keep the sides upright, I suggest using it.

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Upon removing the crust from the oven, remove the shaping pan (if you used one) and begin layering in your other ingredients. Begin with a thin layer of dressing, spread evenly around the bottom and sides. Add a sprinkle of Swiss. Add a layer of meat, thick enough so that you cannot see the bottom crust. Spread a layer of kraut around, as thick as you like. Next is a layer of Swiss.

Begin again with the dressing and continue layering until the pan is full. Be sure that your
top layer is cheese and that nothing is hanging over the edge of the pan.

Bake at 350F for 45 minutes to ensure cheese melts and dish is heated through.

Once out of the oven, unlock and remove the ring from the pan. Using the edge of the parchment paper slide the pie onto a cutting surface. Allow to sit for three or four minutes before cutting.

Cut into eight wedges and serve with deli mustard and kosher pickles.

 
I’ve made some notes on the process and ingredients I prefer for this dish, as well as some
excellent alternatives. You might find some or all of them helpful.

DSC_0176The Pan
I use a spring-form pan for this dish for it’s ease in releasing the pie once it’s baked. A
deep dish cake pan or cast iron would do as well, provided you don’t mind it getting scratched from having the pie cut in it. This is not a dish that turns out like a cake with anyreliability, tending more to oozing cheese everywhere.

Parchment Paper
Parchment paper in the bottom of the pan will make it easier to remove. With a spring-form, you simply unlock the ring and lift it away, then slide the parchment paper and it’s burden onto a cutting surface. With any other type of pan, the corners of the parchment paper may be used to lift the pie out of the pan and onto a cutting surface. Parchment paper also helps give the bottom crust a crunchier texture, reminiscent of the grilled bread of a Reuben sandwich.

DSC_0180Pizza Crust
A pizza crust found in the canned biscuit case is readily available and easy to use. If you
have other breads available (at one time I could get pre-made rye bread dough at the grocery), or prefer to make your own, it’s entirely up to you. Be sure that with whatever crust you choose, the flavors will be compatible with the filling ingredients. We have tried pizza crust, rye, sourdough, and pumpernickel over the years and found them all to be quite tasty.

DSC_0192Corned Beef
Corned beef is typical of the Reuben sandwich, though you may prefer pastrami. Pastrami or even a mix of the two meats is perfectly acceptable. While I have always preferred corned beef sliced extremely thin, you may choose to use thicker slices (tougher) or even chunks/strips if you have home-cooked a corned beef and have leftovers. I know – such leftovers are not likely. Thinly sliced meat will not only allow fats to more readily cook out to combine with the other ingredients, it will give you a more tender texture overall, and allow your cheese to melt into the meat as well as the kraut layers.

Turkey also makes a decent Reuben style sandwich, though I have yet to try it in a Reuben pie. White meat especially is rather dry on it’s own and should be compensated for by adding a bit of an oilier cheese such as Mozzarella to compensate.

DSC_0184Sauerkraut
There are actually several styles of kraut on the market. There is a sweetish kraut (Bavarian style), a red kraut, and the generally well known white sauerkraut. Most people are unaware that when buying commercial kraut, it should be drained of the can/jar fluids, and rinsed before being used. That’s a trick I learned from my father after he had spent some time in Germany. For this recipe, the less fluid in the kraut, the less fluid will run off and move down to make the bottom crust mushy, so be sure to press it well after rinsing.

Swiss Cheese
I recommend buying your cheese in block form and grating it yourself. You may slice it if you prefer, but you will not get the same coverage in the end. Pre-grated or shredded cheeses are commonly coated with an anti-caking agent such as corn starch. If you don’t want those extra calories and carbs, you might consider avoiding the temptation. Besides, pre-shredded Swiss is more expensive per pound than the block.

 

DSC_0200The Dressing
Russian dressing is reputed to be the original dressing used for the Reuben sandwich. Many restaurants over the years have switched to using Thousand Island due to it’s accessibility and popularity on salads. I like either dressing, though this time around Thousand Island was requested.

 

Pickles
Reuben sandwiches, being a deli creation, are generally served with a pickle spear or a whole kosher dill on the side. The same is true for the Reuben Pie. I do not recommend putting slices of pickle into the layering of the pie for a couple of reasons. Pickles hold a a lot of liquid, and it will bake out into your pie. While the flavor may be delicious, the potential for a mushy crust is not. Pickles also change texture somewhat when baked or otherwise heated, losing the lovely crunch and often becoming mushy themselves, rather like sliced squash.

If you like the recipe, experiment with different flavor combinations and let us know what you come up with.

Here are a couple of extra photos of the no-sauerkraut pie and the crust-less pie that I made at the same time. One was a special request, though not strictly in the Reuben tradition, while the crust-less pie was simply a test of the ingredients without bread.

 

Enjoy!

— 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

Make-ahead Meatballs

I have a habit of planning and buying ingredients for meals I never get around to making. This happened very recently. I purchased some items and they sat around mocking me. 

“You’ll never make stuffed pork chops,” they said. 

“Even sketti and meatballs is beyond you,” they told me.

And they were right. Like many, my roommate and I are constantly on the go, and we usually get home late enough that I don’t want to spend an hour or more cooking up a meal from scratch. Stuffed pork chops are a time sink (though so delicious!), and even putting together some meatballs and jarred sauce for spaghetti takes more time than I’ve been willing to invest lately.

So when I found myself with a little spare time, I decided to try something different: making meatballs in the oven, to be refrigerated or frozen and eaten later. 

I ended up with more meatballs than I counted on, and boy was I glad! My fellow bloggers and I snacked on some miniature meatballs (along with all sorts of cheese), and I still had enough minis for a pizza and more than enough full-size meatballs for spaghetti. Score! Best of all, they turned out even better than I had hoped they would.

Meatballs, like meatloaf, are a matter of personal taste. For the meatballs that would be covered in sauce, I kept things simple: meat, bread crumbs, egg, and seasonings. For the mini meatballs, I added some cheese and some more seasoning. Both are very tasty.

The basic recipe is as follows:

  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 c bread crumbs (seasoned or unseasoned, depending on your personal preference)
  • 1 pound ground beef (I used chuck)
  • 1 pound Italian sausage (I used a chub)

To these basic items I added some seasonings, as I said: salt, pepper, and a mushroom and pepper blend called “mushroom truffle hunt” that I found in the clearance bin at a local supermarket. For the mini meatballs, I added a few things to about half the seasoned meat: about 1/4 cup grated parmesan and maybe a tablespoon of a garlic/romano/spice blend from Garlic Festival called Garli Ghetti. 

Mix all ingredients thoroughly by hand until the mixture will easily form balls that hold their shape. Drop the meatballs in a greased sheet pan or baking pan and bake at 400 for about 20-30 minutes (until they are partially browned on the outside). 

Freeze, refrigerate, or eat immediately. Great for pizzas, spaghetti, meatball subs, or finger foods. 

You can, of course, change up the seasonings to suit your tastes or what you have on hand:

  • Fresh or granulated garlic and onion
  • Italian seasoning blend, oregano, basil, parsley, and/or thyme
  • Shredded cheese (you’ll probably need to use less of the bread crumbs)
  • Shredded spinach
  • Different ground meats (or combination of meats) such as lamb, turkey, chicken, venison, or pork
  • If you don’t have any bread crumbs on hand, pulverize Saltine crackers or bread you’ve dried in the oven (250 degrees for about 30 minutes) in a food processor or chopper. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Bon appétit!

~LB

 

 

Cruise Cuisine – Supper in Sapphire

On our third day of the cruise, we were back in Sapphire for dinner. Things were pretty relaxed, and while there was a dress code, no one was really enforcing it.

We were getting more into the swing of things and finally noticed this little addition to the menu that featured an unusual appetizer: “Rare Finds”. My partner in food was much more willing and able to take advantage of this particular little gem. While I returned to the shrimp cocktail, he adventurously ordered the Escargots Bourgignonne (snails in Burgandy). They were not presented in shell, but on a special plate with numerous cups around the rim, each holding a snail. The flavor of the sauce they had been cooked in was outstanding, the heartiness of wine mixed with spices and butter. I was at least brave enough to try that, if not the gastropods themselves.

Sadly, in our excitement, neither of us remembered to take photos of the appetizers.

Our main courses were more mainstream, being beef and chicken, but were as delicious as everything else we had been served to date.

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Chicken Milanese with charred lemon, sautéed green beans, and steamed vegetables.

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Flat Iron Steak with au jus, a baked potato and steamed veggies.

On we went, after a measured pause, to dessert. One of the selections truly surprised me, being lower calorie and having no added sugar. Of course I had to try it and I was not disappointed.

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Chocolate Panna Cotta. A deliciously chocolate dessert with lowered calories and no added sugars.

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Cheese Plate with whole grain bread, blueberries and strawberries, A Swiss-type cheese, a bleu cheese, a Gouda, a Cheddar and a Brie.

If for nothing else, time spent together with excellent food readily available made this trip more than worth the price.

— Ann Cathey