Review: Shanita’s Salsitas

I’ve posted about this before, but now that Shanita’s is taking off like a rocket, I wanted to bring her delicious salsitas to your attention again.

You’ve probably noticed that I regularly eat Shanita’s Salsitas, both as your typical snack of chips and salsa and as an ingredient in some of my favorite Tex-Mex recipes; you may also be aware I am obsessed with her creamy garlic jalapeño salsa, Hal’s Hot Love, in particular. So let’s just start there.

This stuff is like salsa crack. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t become a hard core addict after the first bite – it’s that good. I eat it straight up with home-fried El Milagro tortillas (above); I eat it on scrambled eggs for breakfast; I pour it over my grits; I use it to spice up my take-out; and, of course, I slather my enchiladas in the stuff. I gave my mother a jar last time I went home for a visit, and she sat down with a bag of Fritos (hey, it’s East Texas) and consumed half the jar in one sitting (the pepper doesn’t fall far from the plant).

But Hal’s Hot Love is not Shanita’s only contribution to the local salsa scene. She also makes several other, equally delicious varieties. These are currently available for sale on her new web site: Ki’s K.O., a chile arbol and tangy garlic salsa that doubles as a versatile dressing for salads, crudités, and anything grilled (pictured above and on the salad up top); and Seymour Rockin’ Harissa, a North African-inspired fiery garlic pepper paste that delivers a fantastic kick to all kinds of dishes (pictured below). Check out the recipes section of Shanita’s blog for plenty of tasty ideas, including these amazing Tomates Rellenos Tapas featuring Seymour Rockin’ Harissa.

Two other salsitas that we particularly like are her Little Irv’s Honey Fire, a sweet salsa verde made with roasted tomatillos that’s equally wonderful as a snack or drizzled over enchiladas, and Bubbie’s Haba Lava, which is habanero-based and very hot, indeed (it’s also Eric’s favorite, and I like it on my steak and eggs breakfast – see below). Look for these and other unique salsitas to appear in Shanita’s online store soon.

I’m also really excited that Shanita’s Salsitas will be debuting as a Participating Commercial Bottler at this year’s Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival this weekend! That’s right; in Texas we’re so serious about our salsa that we hold our annual hot sauce tasting festival and competition in August, hot on the heels of a record heat wave. What better opportunity to head out, heat up, and meet Shanita and her salsitas? Then you can be a typical Austinite and tell everyone about how you knew about Hal’s Hot Love before it was mainstream, or whatever.

Shanita’s web site says her salsitas are “affectionately made by hand in Austin, Texas,” and I can verify the truth of this statement. I’ve become a fan of Shanita both as a salsa slinger and as a person, and her small, local company packs a punch in more ways than one. Not only is she determined to deliver the freshest, tastiest salsitas directly to your door, but her ethos is one of cultural hybridity and culinary fusion. As she explains on her web site, “Growing up Jewish in a large family on the Texas-Mexico border, cultures blend in strange ways. Bar Mitzvahs become pachangas. Tortillas replace bagels. Jalapenos find their way into falafel.” Shanita’s Salsitas is all about sharing what’s best about Texas culture and food, one bite at a time. This growing company is one of my favorite local food producers, and I’m convinced it will soon be one of yours!

I dare you to try the Hal’s Hot Love. Double dare.

Shanita’s Salsitas
Shanita’s on Facebook
Shanita’s on Twitter


Butter-Themed Dinner Party, Y’all

I’d been looking forward to it for weeks—no, months.

The butter-themed dinner party.

Inspired by previous loosely-themed dinner parties with a couple of friends, Eric and I headed over to the Windsor Park neighborhood one warm Thursday evening to enjoy a menu of which Paula Deen would most certainly approve.

Our gracious host started the evening off with a round of fancy jalapeño cocktails. While I didn’t take note of his top secret recipe, it was something like this, with rum and sugar. Refreshing, with just a little kick. Okay, okay – so the cocktail didn’t include butter. Stick with me here.

While we settled in for what turned out to be a marathon night of many small, artful courses more worthy of Andalucian lingering than Austin mouth-shoveling, our hostess brought out an appetizer I’m still salivating over: homemade radish butter with pumpernickel. It was rich, fresh, a little salty, and absolutely addictive.

Then we moved on to Eric’s homegrown salad, with freshly-picked mixed leaves, mint, oregano, basil, homemade croutons, cherry tomatoes, and (from Wheatsville) grated parmesan, Kalamata olives, and toasted pecans, all topped with a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

This was enjoyed with a cup of my reheated Squash Soup, which included a generous amount of butter.

The next course was the One That Changed Everything. My first serving of fresh, homemade pasta. Yes, I am serious. Luckily for me, the cook is bit of an expert on all things Italian, and Eric and I were happy to reap the benefits of the time he’s spent in both Italy and Sardinia, as well as, apparently, the kitchen. This pasta was amazing. Since it’s about 300 degrees in Texas right now, and the pasta was so fresh and delicate, we didn’t ruin it by drowning it in sauce or weighing it down with heavy meats or strong flavors. Our hosts have the enviable problem of a rather profusive sage bush that’s growing in their front yard, so they just browned some butter, fried the fresh sage in it, and poured that over the homemade fettuccine with a quick shaving of parmesan. Squisito.

I’ve got to make this.

Finally, the main course. Perfect pan-seared scallops with daikon radish, carrot, and leek purée. Just look at it.

For dessert, we had ice cream bars and Scotch on the deck. And, despite all this butter-based indulgence, we weren’t even stuffed; spreading the many small courses out over a whole evening made for a sustained appetite and some great conversation.

I think Lucky Cat was a little jealousl

Pies of the Frisco Shop

The Frisco Shop pie case

A couple of weekends ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Lockhart, Luling, and the Tiny Texas Houses with some friends. We enjoyed Black’s Barbecue in Luling (warning: they charge by the number, not weight, of sides!), peaches at a roadside farmer’s market, a round of cherry limeades from the Sonic, and a hot but beautiful afternoon on the prairie. We planned to incorporate some pies into our little roadtrip, but when we asked the gentle people of Luling where the best place to get some pie was, they were mostly befuddled and largely unhelpful, suggesting that a “coffee shop” down the street “might” have pies, or that a little cafe had cobblers. No dice.

We ended up calling various places in Austin to ask about their pie selections (in a shocker, Hill’s Cafe also only had cobbler!) before deciding on the Frisco Shop, the Nighthawk spinoff out on Burnet Road. And, boy, did they have pies. A whole case full. Including chocolate and banana cream icebox pies, tart cherry and sugar free peach pie, apple pie with rum sauce, coconut merengue, chocolate meregnue (always my favorite), cheesecake, strawberry pie, pecan pie, and probably several others I’ve forgotten. It was amazing. Pie heaven.

It’s hot out, and I love pies, so here’s a pie retrospective (with some Tiny Texas Houses thrown in for fun).

If anyone wants to meet up at the Frisco, tweet me!

Caldwell County Courthouse

Black’s Barbecue

Brisket, jalapeño sausage, mac and cheese, creamed corn, raw onion, potato salad, cole slaw, yeast roll, Dr Pepper – at Black’s

Tiny Texas House

Upstairs in a tiny house

Tiny Texas Chapel

Friends and pies

Pecan pie, y’all


Chocolate merengue with sprinkles

Coconut merengue

Cheesecake – nom nom nom

The Frisco

See my complete collection of Tiny Texas Houses photos here.

Greek Easter

Χριστός ἀνέστη! It’s Greek Easter!

Alex and I hosted a small but entertaining crowd poolside on Sunday afternoon to celebrate Greek (aka correct) Easter which, somewhat disappointingly, fell on the same date as Western Easter this year. We had a good time nonetheless, enjoying several Greek Easter staples such as lamb (we weren’t ambitious enough to roast an entire goat, sorry!) and red Easter eggs.

Due to the fact that I’ve just changed jobs and have a crazy work schedule, plus that I have a paper due tomorrow in the class I am taking for credit, I won’t be posting any recipes today. But check back later in the week! Or let me know in the comments which ones you’re most interested in making at home.

Greek Easter meze spread

Alex, your fearless host.

Pure Luck Farm Texas Feta, with homegrown basil, olive oil, and cracked pepper

Homemade hummus, using Vefa Alexiadou’s recipe.

Greek Easter eggs!

Lamb skewers with meat provided by Wheatsville Co-op, multi-colored bell peppers, onions, zucchini, and homegrown basil and mint, marinated in olive oil, 25 year aged balsamic vinegar, and garlic.

On the grill.

The cook.  He’s turning Texan!

Kabobs a’cookin’ – with two veggie ones for Eric.

Alex and her delicious Greek village salad.

Delicious charred kabobs.

The dessert table (detail).

Greek Easter cookiesexcellent with coffee.

Strawberries and home-whipped cream, from Mike and Laura (check out her Austin food blog!).  Mmm.

Ruffled milk pie.

Alex’s homemade baklava – made from scratch!  So sweet and delicious!


Alex and I cracking each other’s Easter eggs to see who will have a lucky year!  The winner of each round continues with another person and their fresh egg, going all around the feast, until all the eggs are cracked but one – and the person left with a whole egg at the end is the winner.

The winner.

Kalo Pashcha! Καλό Πάσχα! Happy Easter!

Review: Kismet Cafe

In honor of Greek Food Month, my coworker Alex and I decided to hop across the Drag to Kismet Cafe, a Mediterranean spot we’d been meaning to try for ages. Thought it was with some trepidation that I temporarily abandoned by standby, Flying Falafel, the trip was well worth it.

Due to the signage, we’d always assumed this was a Greek cafe; but all evidence points to it being, in fact, Jordianian! Not only is the menu heavy on the Middle Eastern fare, but the restaurant advertises its halal status and proudly displays a framed photo of King Abdullah and Queen Rania. Unfortunately, they didn’t have menssef on the menu; if they had, I would’ve ordered it! We decided to keep with the original, Greek theme, and ordered lamb gyros instead, with a side of hummus.

The hummus was absolutely delicious, though my companion thought it was a tad on the salty side. Topped with diced cucumbers, paprika, and a drizzle of olive oil, it was rich and fresh.

Alex, the expert, pronounced the gyro superior to Flying Falafel’s: a good portion of thinly sliced lamb meat, excellent homemade tzatziki, and a very generous amount of feta (for only 50 cents extra!). We decided to get the lunch combo special, as advertised on a sandwich board outside on 24th Street, which included the gyro, a side of serviceable fries, and a drink for $5.55. That’s a good deal. I don’t know if it was better than other gyros I’ve had around town, but it was definitely delicious.

Our only complaint was the extremely slow service. Granted, we arrived in the middle of the noon lunch rush, but it took over ten minutes (maybe fifteen, even) for our number to be called. Everyone else who had been in line behind us had already been served, and we were beginning to wonder if we’d been forgotten. For people on a short lunch break, this can be problematic (though, to be fair, this is my complaint at Flying Falafel, too!). I suspect that, on this occasion, someone in the kitchen forgot to put the fries in the deep fryer.

The restaurant atmosphere was standard for West Campus: plastic chairs, flashing flatscreen TVs (you just can’t get away from these things), and the hum of hungry students chattering, studying, and hanging out. There are also cute iron bistro tables on 24th Street, which is a fabulous people-watching location. And they’re open till 4:00am, seven days a week. Overall, the food was great, the price was right, and I will definitely be back, as it’s a stone’s throw from my new office. Though we were in a Greek mood this week, I look forward to trying some other menu items at Kismet, including the Vegetarian Sampler Plate, the Eggplant Gyro, and the Sheesh Tawooq! Luckily, I’ll still walk past Flying Falafel on my way home from work, so I’ll be stopping in there on Thursdays for the menssef special.

Kismet Cafe
411 West 24th St.
Austin, Texas, 78705
(512) 236-1811