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Thursday, December 23, 2010

The best thing you ever tasted.

People, what is the best thing you ever tasted?

I ask because you are likely with your families right now, or other people you love.  At least, I hope you are.  Are any of you still working?  Do me a favor.  Walk over to your boss, and kick him/her.  Then, proceed to the nearest exit.  Yay!

Anyway.  When we're around the people we love, we tend to eat really well.  I think this happens for two reasons.  A) Preparing good food is, for many, an expression of love, and B) from the eater's side, we actually let ourselves linger over what has been cooked for us.  And, lingering is a key component of eating well.  A component I fail at, grandly, but a component all the same.

This is me, "cooking."   I'm pretty sure I burnt this.

Here in Austin, we are blessed with a really thriving foodie culture.  There is much enthusiasm with little snobbery.  Perhaps it's because we are a relatively new culinary center, and truth be told, are still probably quite far off from being a New York or a San Francisco.  I mean, I guess?  Those two are always held up as THE American eating cities, but is that just the rich people talking?  Could be.

However, let's assume for now that San Francisco and New York host some badass chefs (fact) and diners who actively seek out amazing food (fact).  The difference between places like those, and places like Austin, is -- I think -- an issue of play.  We take food seriously here ... sort of.  All I have to say is "food trailer," and you know what I'm talking about. 

Still.  What those cities have over Austin, probably, is a set of vigorously practiced culinary traditions.  Tradition is powerful.  It is very comforting.  As we near the holidays, you are likely spooning up big mouthfuls of tradition as I write this post.

Food "play" and food "tradition" are two different concepts, and the reason I bring up tradition, juxtaposed against play, is because you get so much of the latter, dish-wise, when you eat out.

But the former?  Tradition?  That's not just San Francisco or New York.  That's Mom.

* * *

My mom makes these cheese grits that will bring you to tears (of joy).  She's making them for Christmas in a few days, and they might be the best thing I ever tasted.  Each bite tastes like a mythical South I want to visit, only more decadent -- more naughty.  The top layer of her grits always has a glistening, gooey layer of cheese on top, sheathing the buttery mash below.

In other artery-clogging delights, my dad used to make me this breakfast that he learned in Vietnam, and because it's so bad for you, we don't really eat it anymore.  But S.O.S, or, "Shit on Shingles," is one of those warm tradition foods that totally sends me back.  I remember thick, white sauce, mixed with sausage, poured over Bisquick biscuits.  Such a dad dish.  I loved it when I had a little bit of sauce, and a little bit of biscuit left, and could run the biscuit through the middle of my plate, soaking up the creamy remains. 

Getting to know your favorite foods is no small thing.  It says things about you, your family, the way you treat yourself, the way you deny yourself.  And all the time, we have to keep our favorite foods in such a delicate balance, lest we get sick of them.  Like grilled chicken salad.  Right, dieters?

Things get old.  We have to veer away from our favorite foods, just for the joy of coming back.  So maybe our favorite foods are also our special foods, things we save for occasions, like holidays or birthdays or second dates.  It's corny, but I believe true, that when something has been prepared with love, you can taste the love specifically.

* * *

So what is the best thing you ever tasted?  Here are some of mine.

1. My mom's Browned Brussels Sprouts.  I have a fierce, passionate love for brussels sprouts.  I think they are incredibly tasty steamed, plain, and because I am joined with roughly 2% of the population in this opinion, they are never out-of-stock at the grocery store.  But!  To make them truly mind-blowing, I do what my mom does:

Steam the sprouts first, then when they are "al dente," transfer them to a sauce pan with a generous amount of olive oil.  Saute until brown with lemon pepper.  Lots and lots of lemon pepper.

And then ... you eat them.

It's 5-year-old easy.  But so damn good.

So NOT my brussels sprouts, but I wanted you to get an idea of what we're talking about here.  (And, pine nuts?  Genius).  Thank you SlashFood for the image. 

2. Ross' Ostrich/Lamb Cranberry and Feta Meatloaf.  I am incredibly fortunate to be married to one hell of a cook.  And because of this I don't mind that he watches Giada de Laurentiis with slack-jawed attention, because GUESS WHAT, I get to eat her food.  It's a win-win.

Anyway, Ross takes Giada's recipe for Turkey, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Feta Meatloaf, and tweaks it.  His version contains the afore-mentioned ostrich and lamb meat combo, since ostrich is incredibly lean, while lamb is incredibly rich and oily.  He combines equal amounts of both in the mixing bowl, and together, the two balance out each other.

Then, he subs out sun-dried tomatoes for dried cranberries, although I've had it with tomatoes before, too, and that is super delicious. Sometimes he adds other crazy things in it like cherries, or curry, or raisins, because meatloaf is accommodating that way.

When he's all done, we totally murder that meatloaf.  Nothing has ever made me feel so gleefully carnivorous as that big pan of baked meat.   Meatloaf has a reputation as "unsexy" food, and it's true -- it's not much to look at.

This is probably the most flattering shot you will ever see of meatloaf.

So, if you make this dish, just close your eyes and take a generous, greedy bite.  Don't look, just taste. 

3.  A dessert at Uchiko called Tobacco Cream.  Ok, I'm cheating.  This dish can obviously be had only by going out, and falls firmly in the "play" (vs. "tradition") camp.  And you're probably not going out to eat anytime soon, since it's the holidays, and if I had my wits about me I would try to tell you about a peppermint or gingerbread some-such ... but, look how pretty!

(Thank you to Orthogonal Thought for the photo.)

Uchiko's Tobacco Cream is made out of choco­late sorbet, maple budino, huck­le­berry, scotch.  Does anyone have any idea what "maple budino" is?   I do not.  All I know is, I ate this during Austin Restaurant Week, and silently freaked out.

Such an aggressive dessert, underneath that pretty presentation.  Smoke, and dark chocolate, and liquor.  Not everyone is a fan of the savory/sweet thing in desserts, but I AM.  Big time.  Give me your salted caramel macchiato, your rosemary apple pie, your bizarre cigar/chocolate dessert inventions!  I'll savor them all!

And you?  What is the best thing you ever tasted?  Ironically, I'm reading a book right now by the same name -- The Best Thing I Ever Tasted, by Sallie Tisdale -- but I'm afraid to report it turns rather whiny at the end! 

But, she did inspire the post, after all.  So cheers, Sallie.


Austin Eavesdropper said...

If you're a good girl, maybe when you wake up on Christmas morning, you find some ostrich/lamb meatloaf in your stocking.

Tanya (a Taste of T) said...

Oh my goodness, I love food. Some of my favs include:

My mom's meatloaf: Real basic, meat, veggies kinda thing but DAMN it's good.

My dad's kalbi ribs: The best word to describe this would be, heaven.

My aunt's death by chocolate: Its the way I wanna go.

Merry HOlidays!

Austin Eavesdropper said...

(PS -- for those of you that think I'm psycho after reading the first comment left on this post, note that that was my husband, accidentally commenting as me! CARRY ON).

@Tanya -- Death by Chocolate!! How do you make? My mom makes a "Better than Sex" chocolate cake. Oh my God.

Anonymous said...

My mom's Mexican stuffed shells -- I wrote about them here ( They're the best in the world. Totally not a "me" food -- all processed ingredients plus meat -- but it makes me think comfort and family and love every time I eat it.

My mom's/grandma's cornbread dressing. They make huge pans of this stuff every Thanksgiving/Christmas. It's a recipe that's been passed down for a few generations, and it's so delicious. I cry a bit on the inside when I see people buying the stuff in the box at the grocery store.

And lastly, my mom's chicken pot pie. During finals week this semester, I got a call from my mom while I was studying at my kitchen table saying that she had made me a chicken pot pie and was bringing it over from Buda. I almost cried. It was so delicious and comforting, and such a sweet gesture.

Lengthy comment but college students think a LOT about Mom's food!! :)


Jodi said...

I would just like to say that I love your writing style. It's so fun and easy and personable. Austin Eavesdropper is my favorite blog right now :-)

amy said...

I must say the most delicious foods I've ever tasted weren't in restaurants or growing up, but dishes that my husband has made over the years. He nearly went to culinary school-- but happily discovered photography. :)
1. Gnudi with brown butter and sage (gnudi is like gnocchi, only it's even more delicious.)
2. Baked green chile mac and cheese (I blogged this recipe a while back.)
3. Braised shortribs with red wine reduction and blue cheese mashed potatoes (I have to list these together because we always make them together, and well, they're just meant to be.)

Thanks for blogging about food! As far as food snobbery, I think I understand it but don't ascribe. I love fancy food and simple food (one of my new favorite Austin restaurants is Frank.) I think the common denominator for me is if it's comfort food, then I love it the most, whether it's fancy or simple.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your mister! Wishing you every good thing!!!

Austin Eavesdropper said...

@Natalie -- Oh, such comfort food! One and all. I like how your favorites all came from Mom. And, isn't eating leftovers from home (when you're in college) the BEST?

My mom used to make me these enormous cookies called "Buffalo Chips" (why is this is the second time in one post that I've referenced a dish with a poop euphemism??). They have EVERYTHING in them: white chocolate chips, walnuts, craisins, etc. She sent them to me at camp in big care packages, making me the most popular girl in the cabin.

@Jodi -- Aw, Jodi. What a compliment! Especially coming from you. Thank you, woman.

@Amy -- HOLY BEJESUS. Your dishes made my eyes pop outta my head! I loooove gnocchi, so I'm shocked I've never even heard of gnudi! But more delicious, you say? I'm going to look up that recipe. (For Ross to make). Is it also made from potatoes?

amy said...

Hahaha. We started with Giada's recipe found here but left out the spinach and instead of marinara, we browned butter over medium heat and added fresh sage when the butter turns brown-- drizzle over the gnudi and promptly die of happiness.

That Chelsea Girl™ said...

1. My mother's spinach lasagna. She and a friend while working at the Barton Creek Country Club many moons ago perfected a specific recipe, and now it's the family recipe.

2. Fresh huckleberries, right off the pesticide-free plants you can find in the mountains of Montana. If you wish to pick huckleberries, season's from July through August, and they taste sort of life a mix between a raspberry and a blueberry, but even that does not give it justice.

3. Creme brulee from the Beverly Hills Hotel's Polo Lounge. When I lived in LA, I would go there once a week for desserts and/or appetizers with family. Haven't been in a year, but their creme brulee was the best I have ever had, and it's one of my favorite desserts, ever.

4. My nana's German potato salad. I don't know why it's German, I just know it's my favorite potato salad.

5. Fresh citrus from my grandmother's grove California. She sent me some oranges and lemons, and I remembered why I usually go there during the holidays.

Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year, Tolly!

Tanya (a Taste of T) said...

Death By Chocolate is layers of chocolate cake, brownie, chocolate mouse, whip cream and a sprinkling of heath bars for crunch. It changes a bit year to year with different types of layers, but it's ALWAYS amazing

Unknown said...

Great article. Austin is the upcoming culinary goldmine!

Anonymous said...

I totally just got off of tour and am catching up on your blog. w000t loove the new look (esp the mustaches).

Jayarebee said...

I love Brussels sprouts. I mean, I really really love them. They have such a bad rep. However, I will let the other 98% of the world go about with their ignorant hatred of them. It's not like a TV show I love where, if I don't have the support of the entire world, it will get canceled. Brussels sprouts...FOREVER.

To answer your question is, indeed, a challenging task. I am such a foodie. HOWEVER, I keep coming back to my mom's squash casserole. I have tasted my fair share of squash casseroles, and NONE have even come close. I don't know what it is about her recipe, but I can't even form coherent sentences that would do it justice. I want her to bake a Texas-sized dish of it so the whole world can know what it is like to live. OK, maybe I went a little too far there. But it's good. Trust me.

I can't finish this reply without mentioning the French Fries with Gorgonzola Dipping Sauce from a restaurant called Cliff's Edge in West Hollywood/LA. We ordered it on a whim. A whim that I now refer to as one of the best food decisions of my life. Maybe. I had it about 9 months ago, and my mom and I still talk about it.

P.S. I'm a sweet & savory person, too. I was watching The Best Thing I Ever Ate on Food Network and saw a woman describing these sweet & salty brownies made with dark chocolate, homemade caramel and fleur de sel. I immediately googled, and am adding this place to the must-visit list when I go to NYC.

Shit. My reply is nearly as long as your blog. Food'll do it! Have the happiest of holidays!


Love this piece, not only because it's fabulously thoughtful, but because I love talking about food. Any time. So the best thing I've ever tasted would have to be the caprese salad that I ate every day while honeymooning in Capri. The incredibly sweet tomatoes, layered with huge basil leaves and the creamiest mozzarella you've ever put in your mouth... And I must admit, being with my new husband surrounded by the lemon groves of the Amalfi coast didn't hurt the experience one bit.

Austin Eavesdropper said...

@Amy -- I read your comment, and at first I thought it said: "and instead of marijuana..." Haha. I thought, "no WONDER she loves gnudi!"

@That Chelsea Girl -- Ross LOVES to make creme brulee. Like...he got himself a torch and everything. Your Beverly Hills version sounds divine.

@Tanya -- HEATH BARS. Ok. That dessert sounds like the solids version of a Dairy Queen Blizzard, WHICH I LOVE. Is your aunt from the South? Or was she just delivered to Earth by angels, mixing spoon in hand?

@Jane Ko -- I agree! Our fearlessness makes us special.

@MaiSquared -- HI MAI!! Am so happy to have you back! I'm glad you like the new look. I'm still not 100% satisfied but I needed to do SOMETHING. I was getting bored with the way it looked.

@Jayarebee -- As in my Tweet just now your comment made me totally grin, and I haven't stopped. Brussels Sprouts Forever indeed, which is more than we can say for Arrested Development and My So-Called Life. Those should have never ended either. Also, holy shit! The fries w/ Gorgonzola Dipping Sauce.....!! I am speechless.

@Camille -- Oh wow. Doesn't it sometimes seem like the French/Italians have cracked some sort of secret food code? They are DEFINITELY in the "tradition" camp, and for that, I love them. The tomatoes + basil + mozzarella. Such simple ingredients, but when it's the BEST of each one, the combined effect is unreal.

PS. Not Capri, but when I was in Milan (eight years ago) I converted from an olive hater to olive lover. The right region will do that to you!

Let's have a post-holiday drink (& maybe snack) together, you. <3 <3 <3 (those are hearts)

Tanya (a Taste of T) said...

She definitely cooks like she's from the South. She's from Hawaii and just recently moved to Tennessee. I dont even want to start with her fried chicken. Honestly, breathtaking. Merry Christmas!

Dad said...

Christi's cheese grits. Oh my GAWD!!! You have never tasted, eaten, consumed, savored, slavered over anything like Christi's cheese grits. Yankees who hate grits and don't know why would crawl on their knees over rusted cans and glass shards to get another taste of these morsels of heaven's kitchen.

Austin' Music Diva said...


Probably a granola recipe from a friend's Fredericksburg Bed and Breakfast... But I must say I'll have to try your Brussels sprouts.. I love Brussels sprouts and those look mighty tasty!