About Town: Austin
Escaping the Heat with The Big Chill

The stately rotunda of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum was recently the setting for The Big Chill, hosted by the Austin FoodBlogger Alliance to benefit Meals on Wheels and More.

An enthusiastic crowd of the culinary community’s biggest fans had the opportunity to cool their well-turned heels while enjoying live music, sipping innovative cocktails and nibbling the best bites the city offers.  The spacious venue allowed sampling without lines, and the opportunity to mingle and converse with several local chefs, who proudly presented a collection of impressive, ample nibbles.

“It was a privilege raising money for an Austin institution like Meals on Wheels and More.  All of our tasting sponsors were outstanding, and we were especially privileged to get the exclusive first taste of St. Philip (opening soon),” shared AFBA Philanthropy Chair, Christy Horton.

Those tastes came from some top hot spots and favorite local products including The Carillon, Celtic Seafare, Dolce Neve, Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, Finn & Porter, NadaMoo!, Noble Sandwich Company, No Va Kitchen & Bar, Pleasant Storage Room, The Soup Peddler Real Food & Juice Bar, St. Philip, Swift’s Attic, Thai Fresh, and Trace.  

Sweet and savories, alike, were paired with chilly cocktails—“The Dude”, an Orange White Russian with Chameleon Cold-Brew  Coffee, and “Pop”tails , featuring Good Pop’s   Strawberry Lemonade and Hibiscus Mint flavors.

Sponsors of the event included Central Market, HCB Health, Greenling, 505 Southwestern, Chameleon Coffee, Cooking Planit, Kruger Diamond Jewelers, Byte, and Uptown Modern.

Guests also had the opportunity to bid on a variety of artistic, experiential, and service-related Silent Auction items donated by Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Arro, Austin Eats Food Tours, BeeHive, Benjamin Beau Salon, Benold’s Jewelers, Calvin’s Fine Jewelers, East Side CafĂ©, Esty Skin Studio, Fail, Finn & Porter, Froyoyo Frozen Yogurt, Let’s Gel, Inc (makers of GelPro), Greenling, Hotel St. Cecilia, Lick, Posh Foodie, T1 Tequila, Ranch Road Design & Printing, Inc., Ritual Salon + Spa, Savory Spice - North Austin, Serve Gourmet, Skorpil Photography, Smudge Publishing, Solid Gold, Tecolote Farm, Twin Liquors, Uncle Julio's, Uncommon Objects, and Urban Betty.

Kathryn Hutchison, president of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance, had this to share about the group’s philanthropic involvement in the community, and Meals on Wheels and More, the benefactor of the organization’s most recent event:

AFBA has a strong history of supporting philanthropic organizations, through fundraisers like The Big Chill, volunteer days, and social media awareness campaigns. Since the group was founded in 2011, our bloggers have supported the Capital Area Food Bank, the Sustainable Food Center, ARC of the Capital Area, Bake a Wish, Safe Place, Slow Food and many other organizations.

Meals on Wheels was a natural choice for partnership for our 2014 fundraising gala, since they are doing such important work here in Austin. As food bloggers, we have a unique voice and role in the larger Austin community. It's a privilege to use the collective clout of our members to benefit organizations like Meals on Wheels and More.

Meals on Wheels and More seeks to “nourish and enrich the lives of the homebound and other people in need through programs that promote dignity and independent living.”  Volunteer and donor opportunities can be found by visiting their website at http://www.mealsonwheelsandmore.org/

Tickets are now on sale for the Austin Food Blogger Alliance upcoming conference, Byte of Texas, September 27 -28.  Information can be found on their website, at http://austinfoodbloggers.org/conference/.

Tips for Tuesday
Blistered Shishito Peppers with Heirloom Tomato, Red Onion, & Herbed Chevre

Y'all. These shishito peppers, well they're a big deal.

They are the hipster-riffic appetizer of the moment.
They are on the menus of the places to eat.
They are eaten roasted, grilled, fried, broiled, and tossed with salt, olive oil, balsamic, garlic, maybe covered or tossed with cheese or sausage or almost anything you can imagine-- or nothing at all.
They are in season right now (don't wait much longer!).
They are the bomb.

On a recent trip to one of Austin's local farmers' market, I hit the jackpot. Local Johnson's Backyard Garden set me up with the peppers and the onions, to accompany the lovely Indigo Rose heirloom tomatoes I was cradling in my palms like precious treasures.  Because they were.  And their cost was commensurate with their value.  (Let me just say, right here, that heirloom tomatoes cost way more than the conventional mealy, tasteless tomato I'm purchasing for half the price, and getting less than half of the satisfaction. In tomatoland, you get what you pay for.)

Shishitos are small Japanese peppers, mildly spicy and sweet, about the size of serrano, but without the assertive heat that hotter chile peppers pack.  Mostly.

Because the fun of shishitos are that about one in ten pack a bit more wallop than the rest.  And no amount of studying will determine which pepper will surprise you a bit.  Each bite is accompanied by 'is this the one?', and all eyes are on the eater.

Admittedly, even the offender is still much less aggressive in heat than its cousins, serranos, jalapenos, habaneros, and the like.

Simply toasted with a drizzle of oil and tossed with a little coarse ground salt, a bowlful is blissful, shared, with a few ice-cold beers.

But have I ever been known to leave well-enough alone?



one pint of fresh shishito peppers
one pint of heirloom Indigo Rose tomatoes
one red onion

about one tablespoon olive oil

the juice and zest of one lemon
sesame seeds
coarse ground kosher salt
(see optional seasonings, below)

--served with herbed chevre, either purchased as is, or home-seasoned, using the herbs with which you season the vegetables.

Note:  Chevre can be very soft, or it can be found to be a bit firmer.  I began with a firm chevre, seasoned it as above, added a bit of minced fresh garlic, and enough heavy whipping cream to allow it the softness necessary for spreading, a little more than a teaspoon.

Serve, plain, as an appetizer, tossed together for a tasty side or lunch, or, if desired, with crostini, or crackers

The Process

Preheat broiler.  (Alternatively, you may grill, or pan-roast in a cast-iron skillet over high heat.)

Wash vegetables and dry thoroughly.

In a small pan,
1.   Place washed and completely dried whole shishito peppers.
2.   Add whole, washed and thoroughly dried small, heirloom tomatoes.
3.   Slice whole onion in half, lengthwise, and into bite-sized wedges and toss with peppers and tomatoes.
4.  Season--For this batch, I drizzled with olive oil, the juice and zest of a lemon, coarse ground salt, and sesame seeds.

On the top rack under the preheated broiler, place pan, and watch closely, with oven door ajar, until vegetables begin to char.  Remove from heat, carefully, then toss and return to broiler, repeating until most sides of vegetables are blistered.

Remove from heat, allow to cool a bit, taste, and correct seasonings.

While the ease of standard prep of a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of good salt makes these little babies so simple and attractive, they are the perfect foil for seasoning combinations that are bit, like me, out of the ordinary.

  • Sesame oil, either toasted or not, as well as hot chili oil, in combination with olive oil (to lower the smoke point just a bit) lends an entirely different flavor profile, well-suited to seasonings like freshly grated ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, and Asian spice blends.  
  • To go in a Spanish-inspired direction, consider a 'grassier' olive oil, perhaps with sliced Marconi almonds and smoked paprika.  
  • Go oil-less with your favorite vinegar or citrus-based sauces like Ponzu, as well as soy or tamari sauces. 
  • Italian-inspired flavors of garlic and Parmesan cheese, perhaps with coarsely ground black pepper? And then dip them into a golden runny yolk of a poached egg??? Well, you can see how fun these little treats can be.

Play around a bit with your favorite flavors and see what masterpiece you develop!

And feeling a little hot and spicy these days, yourself?  Learn how, and why, to heat up, and cool off, with these, and other nutritional power-packing  peppers.  Visit Tips For Tuesday, Superfood: Hot Peppers! and find scads of delicious peppery dishes, all by fellow Austin Food Blogger Alliance members by visiting the link above, on Notes From Maggie's Farm.

Meatless Monday
Thai Sesame & Ginger-Dressed Armenian Cucumber Salad

Some days you just need something quick and easy.

Oh, it needs to be flavorful, and healthy, and seasonal, and all that, but some days, like MONdays, and many other days as well, you just want to dispense with the chit-chat and get on with things.

Today. Is. One. Of. Those. Days.

There are about a million things going on in this world of mine, and I bet you could say the same.


You may find yourself in the same to-do list on steroids boat. And there's nothing more dangerous to your healthy-eating plans than hurry up when you're hungry. Because when hurry up and hungry show up, drive-thru isn't far behind. Nutritional disaster.

I'm tellin' you, hurry up + hungry--it's a trap, y'all!! Unless you're prepared, that is.

Little dishes like this multi-cultural Thai Sesame Ginger-Dressed Armenian Cucumber Salad, prepared at the beginning of the week, and just waiting for hurried and hungry, save my nutritional day. Bright, flavor-packed, easy-- I make sure I'm prepared for days like this, with dishes like these.

Thai Sesame Ginger-Dressed Armenian Cucumber Salad

1/2 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
2-3T sesame oil, to taste
1/2-1tsp nam pla, or fish sauce, to taste
1 habanero chili, or more, to taste, seeded, de-pithed, and minced (or substitute serrano chiles, which are a bit milder, but not by much!)
1 'thumb'-sized knob of fresh ginger, grated fine
salt, and brown sugar, to taste

1 Armenian cucumber, sliced thinly
3T sliced scallions
1/4 bunch cilantro, chopped, with stems (about 3T, packed firmly)

About Armenian Cucumbers
The Armenian cucumber is thin, elongated, curved and often irregularly curled with a dark green to creamy pistachio colored skin that is textured with smooth longitudinal furrows. Actually a melon in classification, its flesh is crisp, succulent and mildly flavored, similar to a common cucumber. Ideally-sized Armenian cucumbers will range in length from 10-15 inches. Longer cucumbers will tend to be not just over-sized, but also overly mature with less moisture content. The Armenian cucumber is entirely edible. Available in local farmers markets and produce sections, now.

Combine dressing ingredients in a medium bowl, whisking well to blend, and adjusting seasonings to taste.  (Watch out for those peppers!  Wash hands after handling and be aware that they will 'bloom' as time goes by-- making this salad more fiery by the day. Which is great for your metabolism, incidentally!)

Add remaining salad ingredients to dressing, toss, and allow to chill for one hour before serving. Keep covered and refrigerate for as long as a week, though best eaten within the first few days of preparing.

Take THAT, drive-thru!

If healthy, wealthy, and wise are your thing, be sure to stop back by this week for seasonal, economical, nutritious, and superfood-packed recipes, (including the hipster-fabulous and favorite shishito peppers!) on Notes From Maggie's Farm.

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