This page has moved!

February 21, 2011

Thanks for visiting this page. I have a new page now, however, and you can read all my posts, including those from the old Chile y Limon blog, at http://cuisinexplorers.com

I look forward to reading your comments!

New home for Chile y limón

April 2, 2010

Hello out there,

Just to let you know again that Chile y limón has moved to a new home. Read the latest postings at http://cuisinexplorers.com

You can now subscribe by email as well as sign up through an RSS feed. I am updating content more often and have lots of new sections. If you have been looking here and not reading anything new, that’s why!

Go check out the new blog and send me your opinions.

New website, new look!

March 15, 2010

Dear readers,

Today I have taken a leap forward and started my own website with my own URL. From now on, please follow Chile y limón at:

http://claudiaalarcon.com/wordpress/

I am excited to be learning more about this new media stuff, so I hope to have a better grasp of this soon. In the meantime, I’d love your comments on the new look and please sign up to receive my feed until I figure out how to add an email subscription. As I said, I am still new at this.

Hope everyone is enjoying the last week of winter. Spring is here in Austin, everything is blooming and there are new tenants in the garden. More on that soon.

Happy everything!

CA

New Texas Zagat Guide released online

March 4, 2010

As some of you know, I edit the Austin section of the Texas Zagat Survey. The 2010 version is online only, compared to online and print in previous years. With so many people using smartphones and the like, they figure more people will prefer this format.  Since I don’t have any such gadget, I will miss the hard copy in my glove box.  Perhaps I’ll catch up to the 21st Century sometime soon.

ZAGAT RELEASES NEW TEXAS DINING SURVEY

Texans Take it to the Web;
Austin and Houston Diners Report Dining Out the Most in America
Though Texas Is Home to Nation’s Best Value Dining, Prices Soar

New York, NY. March 4, 2010 – Zagat released the results of its latest Texas Restaurants survey today, with detailed local information, ratings and reviews at ZAGAT.com, on its award winning mobile site ZAGAT.mobi, and ZAGAT TO GO℠ for iPhone, Android and smartphones. The exclusively-digital results include coverage of 1,818 restaurants in Austin/Hill Country, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. Each restaurant was visited an average of 490 times in the past year.

Plugged-In: When online surveyors were asked how they choose to make their reservations, 23% said they make reservations via the Internet – up from only 11% two years ago.

Economics: When asked what effects the weak economy has had on their dining-out habits, surveyors report being more attentive to prices (35%), eating out less (32%), eating at less expensive places (26%), skipping appetizers and/or desserts (19%), and cutting back on alcohol (17%). Meal cost inflations is higher than ever before: Austin (7.5%), Houston (5.9%) and San Antonio (7.3%). Compared to two years ago, 37% of surveyors report spending more when dining out vs. 18% who said less. However, Texas remains a relative bargain as the average cost of a meal in all four major Texas markets ranks below the national average of $35.10, especially in Houston ($32.53), San Antonio ($31.34) and Austin ($30.76). Dallas/Ft. Worth, the most expensive dining area ($35.03) had the lowest inflation rate (0.6%). When asked what positive effects the economic downturn has had on their dining habits, 49% of surveyors report finding better deals at restaurants, while 34% say that it’s easier for them to get a table at hard-to-get-in places.

Dining Out Less: Confirming the above results, Houstonians say that they are dining out less than they did two years ago – 4.0 times per week down from 4.2 in 2008. Close behind are Dallas at 3.6 (down from 4.0) and San Antonio at 3.5 (down from 4.0). Still, Texas diners eat out more often than anywhere else in the U.S. – for example, Los Angeles (3.4) and New York City (3.0). The Zagat national average is 3.2 meals out per week.

Winners: This year’s Top winners in each city are as follows:

Market Top Food Top Décor Top Service Most Popular
Austin/Hill Country Uchi Driskill Grill TRIO Salt Lick
Dallas/Ft. Worth Bonnell’s French Room French Room Abacus
Houston Le Mistral Tony’s Tony’s Da Marco
San Antonio Dough Bohanan’s Il Sogno Boudro’s

Details: For information about the Survey and to find additional statistics, please visit  http://www.ZAGAT.com. And there’s also Zagat via Facebook and Twitter @ZagatBuzz!

About Zagat Survey, LLC

Known as the “burgundy bible,” Zagat Survey is the world’s most trusted source for information about where to eat, drink, stay and play around the globe, and as such has become a symbol of quality. Zagat Survey rates and reviews airlines, restaurants, hotels, nightlife, movies, music, golf, resorts, shopping, spas and a range of other entertainment categories in more than 100 countries. It has been lauded as the “most up-to-date, comprehensive and reliable guides ever published” and as “a necessity second only to a valid credit card.” Zagat content is available in print, on the web, on the mobile web, iPhone, BlackBerry and on TV. For more information, visit ZAGAT.com.

Flaky Bits: Dipak Topiwala

February 24, 2010

Dipak Topiwala, flakiest of all bits at the legendary Whip-In in South Austin

For the last 20-odd years I have -as anyone that has lived or played in South Austin during this time- not only witnessed but been part of the transformation of the beloved Whip-In. From the cool little convenience store with the best beer selection in town, to a flag-waving advocate for local products, a great source for inexpensive wine gems and now as the coolest Indian food haven, beer and wine bar, and music venue in the 78704. The man behind the madness is Dipak Topiwala, who took over the general management of the shop from his parents Joe and Chanda. Somehow he convinced mom to share recipes and his wife Arden to spend time in the kitchen to serve some of the best Indian home cooking I’ve ever had. Just try the Whip-Indianized beef and beer chili and then let’s talk.
Usually covered in flour  from hand-rolling naan bread by mid-afternoon, Dipak always has something nice, funny or just downright weird to greet you with. That and a cold pint of a local microbrew or seasonal beer that he loves at the moment. Plans are afoot to start brewing his own and add the title of brewpub to the many faces of the Whip-In. In the meantime, I am still partial to the Obama Shandy.

You want Flaky Bits? It will hardly get flakier than this.

Chile y limón:  If you were a heavy metal band, which would you be?

Dipak Topiwala: Vilayat Khan

Cyl: What is the scariest food you’ve ever eaten?

DT: “Mexican food in Portland!”

Cyl: If the Whip-In was a movie, which would it be?

DT: “War and Peace!”

Cyl: What about a musical style?

DT: “Improvised. No intention, no plan.”

Cyl: What’s the most underused vegetable and what do you do with it?

DT: “Bitter melon. You salt it then sauteé it with onion and spices. People don’t go for it, it’s too different…”
“It’s an acquired taste,” adds his father Joe, who as usual, is right.

Cyl

Flaky Bits: Josh Watkins

February 17, 2010

Josh Watkins of The Carillon took time to sit with me and give me some Flaky Bits

I am lucky to start my new Flaky Bits with one of my favorite Austin chefs, the young and talented Josh Watkins. In a nutshell, I met Josh while he was the Sous Chef at the Driskill Grill working with David Bull. Upon David’s departure, Josh took over the kitchen to continued acclaim. My first clue that Josh not only is a cutting edge, super creative presence in the kitchen, but also a super cool guy was at the now infamous Batini contest. After the competition was done, the judges and VIPs were still backstage and Josh came over, pastry bag in hand, pouring lemongrass sorbet directly into people’s mouths while we drank shots of Tito’s. I knew then, as I still do, that he was a kindred spirit.

I recently visited with Josh at his new venture as Executive Chef at The Carillon, the restaurant at UT’s AT&T Conference Center. We enjoyed a four-course tasting menu with wine pairings that was absolutely stunning. The crisp pork belly with a spicy Diablo glaze, Asian pear salad and crisped mint is still in my mind as a fine example of why pork rules. The perfectly cooked coffee-rubbed NY Strip, garnish with candied garlic  and served with a cocotte of creamy roasted pasrnips has no equal. Josh knows his ingredients and can combine them fearlessly. Bravo, my friend.

Texas coffee-rubbed dry aged NY strip with candied garlic garnish and creamy roasted parsnips. Yes, please!

Texas coffee-rubbed dry aged NY strip, with candied garlic garnish and creamy rosted parsnips on the side...yes, please!

Josh Watkins’ Flaky Bits:

Chile y limón: If you were a metal band, which would you be?
Josh Watkins: “Does Whitesnake count? I’ll be Whitesnake!”

CyL: If your food was a music genera, what would it be?
JW: “Eclectic Jazz. It has stability, but also spark and flare.”

CYL: What do you think  is the most underutilized vegetable and how do you use it?
JW: “Celery still gets a bad rap! It is great because it pairs with fat and has a palate cleansing flavor and texture. The tender leaves are great raw, in salads.”

CyL: What do you eat at Luby’s?
JW: “I have never been to Luby’s! My wife and I were talking about it the other day. It’s definitely on our to-do list!”

For the record, Chile y limón is partial to the crunchy-crusted baked fish with that scary tartar sauce…and cherry pie for dessert!

CyL

Flaky Bits

February 17, 2010

Today I start a new  series that I have been wanting to do for a few years now. I tried to do it for a few of the publications I write for, but it just hasn’t worked out. Some outlets never panned out, some think this is “too weird”, others wanted to rearrange the concept completely. Finally, I decided this is my concept and it belongs in my weird little world.

Flaky Bits is the name Will and I came up with after much deliberation. In this page, I will highlight a personality in the food world, most likely from Austin but guest stars will appear here and there. They will range from chefs and mixologists, artisan food makers, gardeners and farmers, restaurant owners, foodie musicians, and anyone else that wants to play the game with me. Their work will be highlighted briefly then the questions will follow.

Flaky Bits will appear once a week, so stay tuned for new and fun weekly wackiness.

Better late than never, I guess

February 12, 2010

Back in late November of last year, I was interviewed by AOL’s Slashfood blogger Hanna Raskin on “Tamales for Thanksgiving.”  As is common in this kind of interview, some of my comments and assessments were misinterpreted or arranged to fit the author’s immediate story angle. Nevertheless, it’s my name out there and I am glad for that.  Read the article here:

via Slashfood Tweets

Considering I just had my fill of tamales in Mexico City during the most important and traditional holiday for eating tamales (Candlemass Day, Feb 2nd) it reminded me to share this story with my readers. Let me know what you think.

On that note, for those of you who can read Spanish, I also did an interview with the local Spanish language newspaper, Ahora Sí!  Tania Lara, a Mexico City native herself, did a better job at conveying my knowledge and ideas regarding the foodstuff that has consumed my life and research time for the last 10 years. Read Tania’s story here.

I’m working frantically to finish the book soon. My recent trip yielded new finds (as usual) and great photos. Here’s one just to whet your appetite.

Two tamales: blue corn masa stuffed with rajas and cheese from Zimapán, Hidalgo (open) and a wild mushroom and chile tamal (wrapped) from San Francisco Tetlanohcan, Tlaxcala

Since it’s still cold outside, I may hunker down and make some tamales next week. Will post recipe and pics, no worries.

Parsnips II: Success!

February 11, 2010

My first parsnip harvest from the garden. Roots are a bit gnarly, will add more sand and nutrients for next fall's crop.

Now lookie there. I was able to grow my own parsnips in Central Texas. Considering that they require a certain amount of below freezing temps to develop their sweetness, I couldn’t have picked a better year to try them out. Plenty of rain and chilly weather have been tough on most plants, but rewarded me with a few of these beloved veggies to play with.

With the four beauties pictured above I made some risotto. I adapted a Bon Appétit recipe and added my own touches according to what else was available in the garden that day. Here’s the recipe:

Parsnip and herb risotto for two

3 Tbsp. butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 large-ish parsnips, well scrubbed, peeled and cubed
1 Tbsp. fresh chopped thyme (rosemary or sage work well too)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup arborio or carnaroli rice
3 cups warm veggie or chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in a heavy saucepan. Sautee onion until transparent and add parsnips and 1/s the herbs, and season with salt and pepper, stirring, until parsnips begin to soften and brown slightly. Add rice and keep stirring for about 2 minutes. Add broth and stir well. Cover and lower heat to low. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, then check for doneness, stirring. Add the wine, cover again, and simmer until rice is tender but al dente and most liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, add remaining herbs, 1 Tbsp. butter and grated Parm. Check salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Peeling my prized parsnips for risotto

I served it with pan fried sockeye salmon seasoned with citrus salt and drizzled with an amazing aged balsamic that I got for Christmas (thanks Sarah!). Some arugula (from the garden) tossed in olive oil and lemon (from my tree!) and we felt like dining at a nice restaurant, but in the comfort of our own kitchen and with Pickles next to us. Life is good.

I’ll be picking more parsnips this weekend so more recipes to come. have ideas? Send them on. I already made Dana’s soup (from previous Parsnip post) so send new ones.  Apparently valentine’s Day is the time to plant potatoes so I need to make room for them. More on that later.

Of Earthquakes and Saints

January 27, 2010

Being from Mexico City, I am no stranger to earthquakes. I grew up with them, in them, numerous times. Yet I still remember September 19, 1985.  I was already living in Texas, and was actually at the Austin City Coliseum  for a Squeeze concert.  Some of my friends told me about an earthquake in Mexico City, comments I quickly dismissed with “oh, yeah, they happen all the time.”

But not like this one. By the time I got home and turned on the TV, panic set in. I tried repeatedly to call home, to no avail. It took days before I heard from my cousin in Chicago who had finally managed to call home. Everyone was OK, but over 10,000 people were dead, and the city, including the general Hospital, was in shambles. My brother tells me stories of how people, without really organizing anything official, just started  getting out there to help. He and his friends brought coffee and food to workers who were trying to find survivors in the rubble.  At the General Hospital, the only survivors were a dozen babies from the maternity ward, their bodies supple and their minds not able to grasp a thing. As far as they were concerned, they were in a dusty rather than wet dark womb.  Many others were not so lucky. I was unable to help, stuck far away, a new immigrant with little money. I remember going to a benefit at Liberty Lunch. Don’t remember who played, but remember many people being there and lots of friends calling to comfort me.

As I watch and hear about the people in Haiti, I have a weird flashback. Again, stuck far away with little money, seeing a whole country suffer YET AGAIN from another natural disaster striking an already impoverished nation. So during the NFC Championship last weekend, it was impossible not to draw parallels among my own memories, the impending crisis in Haiti, and the horror of Katrina.  As instructed by the NFL and TV commentators, I got my cell phone and texted Haiti to 90999 to send $10 to the Red Cross.  I saw Pierre Garçon wrap the AFC trophy on the Haitian flag. I saw Jonathan Vilma play with an incredible energy. And we all had tears of joy when the New Orleans Saints won that game. After so many heartaches, on and off the field, the Saints came through for themselves and a city that long has supported them and deserved more than any other to have something to celebrate.

We did, wholeheartedly, at our house. I made “Cajun” pizzas that were a huge hit, unfortunately there are no photos because we demolished them quickly to soak up the beer and adrenaline. But I’ll share my ideas and recipes as some of you may want to do this inexpensively for the Big Game on Feb 7th.

“Cajun” Pizzas

4 Frozen cheese pizza of your choice. I bought thin crust 3 cheese pizzas from our local HEB brand.
1 pound cooked salad or cocktail shrimp, thoroughly drained
6 links of smoked sausage of your choice. I wanted Andouille, but ended up with Texas-style from Southside Market
1 pound ground chicken or turkey
Cajun seasoning mix of your choice
Cook the sausage to brown evenly and drain some of the abundant fat. Cool slightly and slice thinly.  Cook the ground turkey (I used bacon grease I had saved and chopped onions) adding cajun seasoning. Let cool. Toss the shrimp with Cajun seasoning. Assemble toppings on frozen pizzas to your liking. I made one with just shrimp, one with sausage and turkey, and two with everything. Bake according to box instructions. Enjoy with plenty of beer and add Tabasco or another Louisiana-style hot sauce to taste.

On that note, I remind you to do your best to help the crisis in Haiti by donating anything you can. $10 here go a LONG way there.

GO SAINTS!