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


Weeknight Tostadas

One of my favorite go-to recipes for a quick dinner, tostadas are both easy and filling. If you’re a Real Texan™ like me, you probably usually have most of the ingredients on hand. The staples are: tortillas, a can of beans, and salsa. Beyond that, go crazy with whatever you have in the pantry or fridge. I’ve made breakfast tostadas, tempeh tostadas, squash tostadas, and tostadas that were really nothing more than giant nachos (and how!).

Last night, I threw together some nice, mostly local tostadas using El Milagro corn tortillas, canned black beans, homegrown lettuce and jalapeños, both homemade and bought* salsa, and a little cheddar cheese. My partner, who is usually meagre of appetite, requested two!

Weeknight Tostadas

4 fresh corn tortillas
1 can black beans (or pre-cooked from dry)
4 Tbsp butter
~2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp bacon fat
1 clove garlic, minced
dash onion powder
dash salt
~1 cup fresh mixed greens of your choice
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
1 fresh jalapeño, thinly sliced
salsa of your choice, to taste

1. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 of the butter and a dash of olive oil over medium high heat. Fry each tortilla (you may be able to do more than one at a time if you have a large pan) on each side until nicely browned and crispy, adding more butter and oil as necessary. As each tortilla is fried, remove it from the heat and place it on a paper towel to drain excess oil.

2. Meanwhile, in a smaller skillet or saucepan, warm beans and bacon fat over medium low heat. Drizzle in a little olive oil to taste (about 1 teaspoon). As they warm up, add the garlic, onion powder, and salt, and continue to stir occasionally to prevent sticking and ensure that the ingredients are well mixed.

3. Lastly, assemble your tostadas by spooning out the beans and spreading them on each tortilla, about 1 heaping tablespoon at a time. Top with salsa of your choice, lettuce, and jalapeños, and, voila!, a quick and tasty dinner.

Serves 2. Make as many as you want, though!

*I’d also like to take this opportunity to break with blogular tradition a bit and give a shout-out to my friend Shanna and her addictively ambrosial homemade salsas. I regularly purchase her amazing creamy garlic jalapeño salsita, Hal’s Hot Love (which I have talked about here before), and I recently bought two jars, as usual. I have a confession to make here. I am so addicted to Hal’s Hot Love, both jars were gone within 36 hours!

However, we have a garden allotment down the street (what’s up, St. Martin’s!) and thus have a large crop of jalapeños regularly ready for the pickin’. After a horrible first try involving the poolside BBQ grill a couple of weeks back, I successfully roasted and pulverized the peppers and created my own sad, sad imitation: the poor man’s Hal’s. It didn’t compare at all.

As I’ve said before, Hal’s is really something special. It’s like Tacodeli’s Doña sauce, but hotter, creamier, and richer. Better. Anyway, what you see pictured here is my weak imitation salsa, which I won’t be making again, and her new flavor, a tangy garlic chile salsita called Kī’s K.O. Instead of suffering my last-minute impostor salsa again, I will be placing an order for more Hal’s (a case, perhaps?), and you should, too. Check out Shanita’s Salsitas here and place your order today. You can thank me later.

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!

Roasted Butternut Squash with Rosemary and Thyme

Now that we’ve finally had a couple of non-hot days here in sunny Austin, and my local food cooperative has inviting autumnal displays of squash and pumpkins, I am ready for fall!

I bought a couple of butternut squash, not knowing what I would do with them. I had a warm, spicy soup in mind, or maybe Smitten Kitchen’s Squash and Chickpea Salad, which I’ve heard great things about.

Luckily for my taste buds, someone at work surprised me with a bag of fresh rosemary this afternoon! This is what I came up with – so easy but so delicious. Herbs are great for easy but delightful flavor, and the added crunch of a roast makes this an irresistible side!

2 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped
2 heaping Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped or crushed
1 Tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan or blue cheese crumbles (optional, your choice)

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Chop herbs and mix them up in a bowl with the olive oil, so they have some time to soften up and infuse the oil with flavor while you prepare your squash.

2. If you’ve never prepared a butternut squash, and don’t know where to start, watch this. You want to cut your squash into medium-sized cubes, all roughly the same size.

3. Put all the squash into a large, oven-safe dish (I used a deep, tin baking dish). Pour olive oil and herb mixture over the squash and stir until all pieces are covered, adding more oil if necessary. Bake for 30 minutes uncovered.

4. After 30 minutes, remove the squash and stir, turning most of the pieces over for even cooking, and replace in oven. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until your squash is lightly browned.

5. Serve immediately dusted with freshly grated parmesan or blue cheese crumbles, if desired.

Serves 2-4. Refrigerates and reheats beautifully.

Pictured with homemade creamy mushroom rice.

Chilled Cucumber Soup

It’s that time of year again.

The time of year when my mom calls and says, “It’s so hot.  Can you believe how hot it is?”

Why, yes, actually–yes, I can.  My mother has lived in Texas for sixty-something summers, and she is still amazed–shocked–every year when August rolls around.

If you’re feeling the heat like we are, why not make a huge batch of this chilled delight to have on hand for lunch or dinner?  Like chicken salad, it’s a great summer meal because it’s served cold.  Unlike chicken salad, though, this one’s raw, so there is not a single moment of cooking involved!  That’s right; no standing over a hot stove and no firing up your oven.

I hope you enjoy this crisp, refreshing summer meal as much as we do.

4 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1.5 cups plain yogurt
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
1 Tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped
1 tsp chili powder, plus a few pinches extra for garnish
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup crumbled goat’s cheese

1. Using a small mortar and pestle, grind garlic and salt into a paste.

2. In a food processor or blender, liquefy all ingredients, keeping aside a little chili powder and the goat’s cheese ; it may be necessary to blend in batches and then stir together in a large bowl.

3. Pour soup into four bowls, cover, and chill in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours.

4. To serve, sprinkle goat’s cheese and chili powder onto the top of each bowl of soup.

Serves 4. Delicious with a side of homemade bread (I added fresh rosemary and garlic to the loaf and served it alongside the soup, drizzled with a little olive oil).

An easy, healthy, and cooling summer treat!