Austin Food & Wine Fest – Must Do’s!

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Disclosure: I’m attending this year’s Austin Food & Wine festival as a member of media.

I’m one of those people who like to plan out their festival experience. Much like I do with ACL on the years I attend, ahead of time I’ll look at the Austin Food & Wine Festival lineup, and figure out which things I consider a “Don’t Miss” and prioritize from there. If I had an All-In ticket, I’d build my schedule around my assigned time for Tim Love’s Hands-On Grilling, which is singularly the most popular event at the festival, and available only to All-In ticket holders. Here’s my 2017 #AFWFest schedule based on the Weekender ticket:

Saturday, April 29th
11am – Stop for bubbly to kick off event, and head immediately to the Toyota Center Plate stage where Brian Pounds is playing. Customize a grilling spatula or make a dry rub.  Get my bearings on the layout, including the ever-important (air conditioned) mobile restroom trailers. If possible, dash over to Krug Wine Tasting at 11:30.
Noon – Fire Pit stop to see what’s grilling from Bryce Gilmore (Barley Swine; Odd Duck), Blaine Staniford (Grace; Little Red Wasp in Ft. Worth), and Andrew Wiseheart (Contigo Austin). Make first foray for food either in Grand Taste or around the park. Must stop by Barilla Pasta to see their giant pasta tossing pot. Find Château D’Esclans and celebrate 10 years of Rosé all Day with Whispering Angel. Because Rosé. Drink water.
12:45pm – Attend Craig Collins‘ seminar on the Rhône varieties of Paso Robles AVA. I don’t know much about these, and Craig is one of my favorite somms. He started the #lambruscorevolution in Austin. Drink water.
1:15pm – Make my way through the Grand Taste pavilion, including Chef’s Showcase. Eat, drink, be merry.
2:30pm – Best Butcher in Texas finals! After, make my way to the 90+ Club (wines rated at the highest end of spectrum), Cooper & Thief (wine aged in bourbon barrels, hell yes!), and Glenfiddich Experimental Dome. Drink water.
Between things, after things, before fest closes for day – Reapply sunscreen. Visit Tito’s Stillhouse Lounge. Make sure to buy that cool Austin food map tee shirt before it sells out. Say hi to High Brew, Delysia Chocolatier, and Infinite Monkey Theorem in Grand Taste pavilion.

Sunday, April 30th
11am – More bubbly! Why not? Ease into the day at “Sunday Gravy and Mimosas” demo.
11:30am – Stop by Hendricks Gin: A Most Curious & Peculiar Cocktail Academy, or if no seats, make a beeline for their The World’s Most Utterly Inefficient Cocktail Bar.
Noon – Beat a path to the Toyota Center Plate stage to catch Amanda Freitag, in case her later demo is full. Check in on Fire Pit action and eat deliciousness from Shawn Cirkiel (Parkside; The Backspace; Olive & June, Bullfight; jugo), Sonya Coté (Eden East), and Michael Fojtasek (Olamaie). Have a minute? Drop by the Pioneer Wine Company Lounge.
1pm – Plan on either Amanda Freitag’s “The Chef Next Door” seminar or the Santa Margherita “Mangia, Mangia, Ya’ll” demo.  If both full, a trip to the Summer Sipper Lounge & Patio and/or Summer Saloon. Stop by KitchenAid and drool over appliances. Drink water. Reapply sunscreen.
1:45pm – Aaron Sanchez, baby! Gotta get a peek at one of my favorite cheflebrities and his tats, even if his “Johnny Sanchez Classics” demo is SRO. There’s also the “Rhode Island Red, Seafood, Sauce and Red Wine” demo. Alternate plan: hit the Grand Taste again, if I haven’t tried all the yummy bites, or sampled enough bevies.  “So much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it. Thank you.” I’m sure to feel like I’ve had a trip through the wine and food version of Willy Wonka‘s factory after this day.
2:15pm –  Cheese and charcuterie, please! “Legends of Europe” features Prosciutto di Parma, Grana Padano, Montasio and Prosciutto di San Daniele. I can’t remember if I’ve tasted Montasio and Prosciutto di San Daniele. I may not remember tasting it at this event, either. *Note to self: arrange a sober ride home in advance of weekend, for both fest days. Drink water. Leave happy.
Festie tip of the day: Utilize the spit buckets. If you don’t like what you’re tasting, don’t drink it. There’s so much to savor, and some flavors may not be ones you enjoy.

How do you plan on doing the #AFWfest?

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Grilled Cheese Sandwich in the Toaster??

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Can you make a grilled cheese sandwich in the toaster? Yes, yes, you can! My son and I were watching Food Network’s The Kitchen on a recent weekend, and it was their “Cheese, Please!” episode. I’m a huge cheese lover, although my son has parameters for fromage: on pizza, in grilled cheese sandwich form, and as queso. We were both spellbound when one of the products in the “Try or Deny” bit of the show was toaster bags to make grilled cheese sandwiches. It looked so easy on t.v. that we just had to try them. I logged onto Amazon, and found a “lightning deal” on ekSel Toaster Bags, three for $5.99. Sold!

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Last night my son and I eagerly set out to make grilled cheese in our toaster. It’s easy enough to make it on the stove top, but I was hoping that these bags would allow my second grade kiddo to make his own, with minimal supervision.

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We elected to lightly butter the outside of the bread, and use only one slice of American cheese. I’m sure you could use mayonnaise instead, if you subscribe to the belief that mayo makes a better grilled sandwich crust. The delicate part of the process is inserting the buttered sandwich into the bag. You are going to have buttery fingers, for sure.

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I wasn’t certain our extremely basic toaster would have wide enough slots for a full sandwich, but I managed to slide it in, with a bit of a push. It wasn’t too tight, but it was snug. A bit of the top was sticking out of the toaster, but it didn’t make any difference in the long run.

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Yes, my toaster has seen some use. Don’t judge me. I’m sure yours is just as dirty.

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The little “tabs” at the top of the envelope make it easier to remove the hot, toasted sandwich. Here’s a peek at the finished, but still too hot to slide out, grilled cheese.

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Plated, and sliced. Looks good, smells great!

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The judge was tough. He wanted a crisply toasted exterior, soft and melty interior.

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In the end, we deemed the grilled cheese toaster bags a complete success.

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My son will still need a reminder that the sandwich will be very hot when he takes it out of the toaster, but who hasn’t lightly burned a finger snagging toast before? I’m deeming any toasted fingertips part of the learning experience of cooking for oneself.

The bags are easy to clean. I washed ours by hand, turning them inside out to get to the little bit of melted cheese in the bottom of the bag. I’m already thinking about grilled cheese with thinly sliced smoked turkey, and experimenting with different bread. The directions are vague, only saying to toast the sandwich at your toaster’s midway point. Thicker sandwiches, and heavier breads may need some trial and error on toasting time, and dial settings.

 

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#ATXBestEats ~ Queso

 

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Photo credit: Kerbey Lane Cafe

Queso lovers have it good in Austin, very, very good. We have an abundance of restaurants serving up outstanding queso. Queso, to anyone reading this that may not be familiar, is not just the Spanish word for “cheese,” but also a melted concoction of deliciousness used mostly as a dip for warm, lightly salted tortilla chips, and sometimes as a sauce (drizzle a generous amount on your enchiladas and you’ll love me forever). And just like we have strong opinions on the best barbecue in town, we are passionate about the best queso in Austin. To say I’ve enjoyed researching this blog post is a major understatement, as I love cheese in just about any form. I welcome all suggestions if you feel I’ve left out a delicious queso in my guide to the best in Austin.

Photo credit: Kerbey Lane Cafe

Photo credit: Kerbey Lane Cafe

You may argue with me, but my favorite queso in Austin is at Kerbey Lane Cafe.  The Kerbey Queso is a scoop of guacamole swimming in queso, topped with pico de gallo. Simple, delicious. I’m not the only one who thinks Kerbey Lane Cafe makes the best queso, either.  Their Classic Queso and Vegan Queso is now available in Whole Foods stores throughout Texas (except El Paso), and in Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas. What’s up, EP? You El Pasoans need to try it, and you’ll like it.

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She’s not the prettiest girl at the party, but a to go container of Torchy’s Taco’s queso is the most popular item of any table, at any meal. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, snack, happy hour, whenever, this green chile queso packs a spicy punch, has a hidden dollop of guacamole, and is topped off with queso fresco, Diablo hot sauce and a scattering of chopped cilantro. For a spicy queso, you can’t get any better than this one. Whether you love Torchy’s or not, you’ll love this queso. Yes, Tacodeli advocates, I’m talkin’ to you.

Maudies queso

Maude’s Hacienda is our family’s regular Tex Mex spot, in our S. Austin ‘hood.  My son is addicted to Maudie’s queso and will argue with me that it is the best, and the only. He turns his nose up at other quesos, which is perfectly acceptable as it leaves more cheese for me and his father. Maudie’s is a smooth, not too thick and not too thin queso  perfect for chips (and french fries). You won’t regret ordering it. The above picture shows their small sized queso, which is just enough for the three of us to enjoy without ruining our appetites.  Maudie’s also offers their Diablo Sol Food, which is taco meat smothered in queso and garnished with pico de gallo. I always order my Diablo Sol Food with guacamole added, and a margarita. It’s serious enough to be a meal for two.

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A bowl of queso with taco meat and guacamole is nothing new to Austin. In 1952, Matt’s El Rancho opened its doors, serving up Tex Mex food.  Texas Land Commissioner Bob Armstrong was a regular, and one day asked for something different, not on the menu. The kitchen obliged (read all about it here), and the famous Bob Armstrong dip was created. Layers of picadillo (taco meat), queso, sour cream, and pico de gallo make for one amazing queso experience. Matt’s has made its recipe available through various sources. Here’s one that is true to taste from Lisa Fain at Homesick Texan, or try this one found at Bon Appetit.

The queso at Chuy’s serves as dinner on many a happy hour night for Austinites. When I moved here in the late 80’s, my friends and I made happy hour at Chuy’s a regular event. We’d send someone early, to grab a table in their small “bar seating” area adjacent to the Nacho Car (back end of a classic car, redone into a serving area for queso, chips, bean dip, and salsas). Fast forward almost three decades, and folks are still gathering at Chuy’s for happy hour margaritas and queso, bean dip and salsa. Can’t go wrong with Chuy’s version of queso, which is a propietary blend of melted cheese, green chile sauce and ranchero sauce.

Magnolia Cafe has their Mag Mud, a delectable mix of queso, black beans, avocado and pico de gallo. When it’s 3am and you need queso, do the Mag Mud. Do it.

I’m certain there are other great quesos in Austin that I haven’t tried yet, but the excellent ones I’ve listed are a fantastic jumping off point in the quest for the best queso. Whether you’re a purist, who wants only queso in their queso, or someone like me who loves the addition of picadillo, guacamole, and beans, you’re guaranteed to find a queso to fit your idea of the best in town.

In search of Austin’s Best Eats? Check out more from the Austin Food Blogger Alliance!

Categories: 2017 AFBA City Guide, Queso | Tags: , , | 1 Comment