#ATXBestEats ~ Queso

 

2017 Best Places to Eat Austin AFBA City Guide - 728x90

KerbeyQueso

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.

TT queso

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.

Matts El Rancho BA2

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

Easy Creamy Red Lentil Soup

Ingredients

I bought some beautiful red lentils on a whim, knowing they are very high in protein and fiber, athough I’d never cooked with them. And then they sat for a few weeks, languishing in my pantry while I pondered what to do with them. My husband is vehemently against eating peas in any form, but I love split-pea soup, especially in winter. Despite the fact that our part of Texas seems to have elected to skip our usual three days of winter this year, I came home from work yesterday and declared it time for soup.

Lentils

I gathered together my ingredients, which I carefully posed for a picture (above, top) before deciding against the lemon, and adding diced frozen, roasted sweet potato, and American cheese. I take a photo of my ingredients because I’m notorious for winging recipes and not writing them down. Then, when I try to recreate them, the second try isn’t as tasty as the first. Even with photos, I’m self-sabotaging.

The lemon wouldn’t be necessary to brighten up the soup, I reasoned, since I didn’t plan on using cream in it.  The sweet potato needed to be used, and it would add flavor and pack even more nutrition into our dinner.  I planned on grating American cheese to sprinkle on top of the soup, but I ended up adding about 2/3 of a cup to the soup, too.  You’ll notice my chicken stock is unsalted.  I didn’t add any salt to the soup, either. Instead, I used mellow white miso, to add a depth of flavor and saltiness.

I fried bacon until crispy, while dicing the carrot, and chopping onion. Once the bacon was out, I sauteed the carrots and onion in the bacon fat until they started to soften before adding roughly chopped garlic and the sweet potato.  I let the veggies cook a few more minutes, while I rooted around in the freezer looking for a popsicle for my son.  When a baggie of frozen organic tomato paste* fell on my foot, which I took it as a sign, and threw a cube into the pot.  (Yet another ingredient not pictured above.)  I gave the veggies another stir, and seasoned them with a pinch of chili powder, and three dashes of ground cumin.  Next was the chicken stock, a little water, and the lentils.  I simmered the soup until the lentils were tender, about half an hour.

I added the miso, a few generous grinds of black pepper, a pinch of dried Mexican oregano, and cheese, then used my immersion blender to cream the soup.  Perfect! Light, but with a good body and flavor, this soup is filling but not a fat-bomb (despite the bacon and cheese).  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Soup

Note to self: garlic bread is not the right accompaniment to this soup. The garlic overwhelmed the soup, and I’ll use regular toasted bread for my leftovers.  This soup could easily be a #MeatlessMonday meal, if you skip the bacon and instead sautee the veggies in an oil of your choice such as olive or coconut oil, and sub vegetable stock for the chicken stock. I’d keep the cheese, though. Because, cheese.

Creamy Red Lentil Soup

Serves 4

3 strips bacon

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large carrot, diced

1 cup diced sweet potato

3-6 cloves garlic, diced (I used 3 gigantic cloves)

1 Tb. organic tomato paste (organic is worth the price — the taste is so much more robust)

3 dashes ground cumin

1 generous pinch chili powder (I used Ancho chili powder, but whatever you have will do)

1 quart unsalted chicken stock

2 cups water

1 cup red lentils

2 Tb. mellow white miso (or more, to taste)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pinch of dried Mexican oregano

2/3 c. shredded American cheese (and a bit more to garnish the soup)

Fry bacon until crisp, and remove from pot. Sautee onion and carrot in bacon fat until starting to soften.  Add garlic and sweet potato, and cook a few minutes more.  Add tomato paste, cumin and chili powder, stirring well to combine.  Pour in stock and water, then add lentils.  Simmer for about 30 minutes, until lentils are soft.  Add miso, pepper, oregano and cheese.  Stir well, then using an immersion blender, blend until smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a blender, working in batches, until the liquid is smooth and creamy.  Serve topped with crumbled bacon and a little more cheese.

*I seem to always cook recipes that call for 1 tablespoon of tomato paste. Since I don’t want to waste the rest of the can, I portion out the remaining paste into tablespoon-sized dollops on a piece of plastic wrap, and freeze until firm. Then I can throw all the frozen lumps of goodness into a ziploc and save them for the next recipe that calls for it.

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Austin Food & Wine Festival

afw-header_logo_2

I’m eager to experience this year’s Austin Food & Wine Festival with its lineup of both local and national acclaimed chefs including Amanda Freitag, Aarón Sánchez, Hugh Acheson, Tim Love, Bryce Gilmore, Janina O’Leary and Tyson Cole. Hugh Acheson and six other festival participants are 2017 James Beard award semifinalists, and the rest of the lineup are no hacks. All are wildly inventive chefs who have spun their genius into delicious, delectable delights. (I’m very pleased that more female chefs are on the roster than in recent years, too.)

Tickets for the festival are broken into two categories. The All In option ($625) includes access to both days of the festival, Fire Pit access, and entry to one of Tim Love’s outrageously popular Hands On Grilling Demo, Sunday Gospel Brunch by The Warrior Gospel Band, plus evening  events Lone Star Nights on Friday and Rock Your Taco on Saturday.  The Weekender Option ($250) omits entry to the Hands on Grilling Demo and evening events.

Unlike other wine and food festivals that I’ve patronized, this is one fest where you will find plenty to eat, and plenty to drink. In addition to wine, the festival showcases craft beer, and liquors. Remember, if you don’t like the way a particular wine, beer or spirit tastes, utilize the spit buckets. Drink responsibly, and have a designated driver or arrange transportation to and from the event.  As someone who has unashamedly left my car overnight in downtown in the past, it’s much cheaper to pay for a ride home than risk driving while pleasantly relaxed.

The schedule includes sessions by chefs, sommeliers, and other restaurant industry champions. I’m particularly interested in Saturday’s Beef Lovin’ Texans Best Butcher in Texas Finals on Saturday afternoon. The Fire Pits are always fun, and the chefs serve up samples as they cook. I had some of the tastiest fire roasted carrots one year, from Jack Gilmore, if I recall correctly.  Much food, and much fun, all wrapped up into one weekend, and well worth the price of admission.

Follow the Austin Food & Wine Festival on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Search by hashtag #AFWfest to pull up all the chatter about this year’s event.

 

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