Okay, so it was more like brunch… or, even, lunch. But I finally got my greedy hands on some fresh Hal’s Hot Love, and my only choice was to immediately make tacos!
Y’all know I love local products, smart design, and delicious treats. This one’s a three-fer!
Austinite (via New York City and Tyler, Texas) Serena Hicks is cranking out the bon bons! Last night I had the opportunity to sample her delicious creations at the Austin Social Affair at the Rattle Inn. Recently featured in the Austin American-Statesman, Bon Bons by Serena is generating a lot of well-deserved buzz. If you’re still looking for a perfect Valentine’s Day gift for that special foodie in your life, look no further!
Serena currently offers four unique and addictive bon bons:
The Matriarch is inspired by Serena’s 84-year-old grandmother, and they’re made using her original, vintage recipe! Described as a “classic vanilla shortbread cookie hand stuffed with a maraschino cherry, hand dipped in a vanilla frosting,” this sweet treat is my favorite in the line. The cherry’s bright flavor and smooth texture is a nice complement to the buttery exterior.
The Susie Q is named after Serena’s mother and incorporates ingredients from her favorite cocktail: brown sugar and dried apricot, hand dipped in a 100% Arabic coffee bean liqueur frosting and topped with an espresso bean!
The boy’s favorite was The Texas Treat, a basic vanilla shortbread bon bon containing a Texas pecan, then hand dipped in Texas whiskey and chocolate frosting. His favorite part? Serena uses Balcones Baby Blue Whisky, homegrown in Waco!
Finally, the Brown Sugar Kiss bon bon is a brown sugar confection with a kiss of chocolate on the inside and outside! The dough is wrapped around semi-sweet chocolate morsels, hand dipped in a semi-sweet chocolate sauce, and then finished with a banana chip. Fancy!
You can order bon bons in adorable boxes of four or luxurious boxes of twelve on the Bon Bons by Serena web site–she even delivers! These little treats are a great gift; the expert design and packaging makes the most of a great product and inspires a real sense of occasion. Serena also does catering.
And be sure to check out Serena’s blog for all the latest from the bon bon curator! This is a local food business to watch.
As I did back in 2008 (when my mom came down to visit and we had a vegan holiday), we bought most of our food at Wheatsville Co-op, our regular grocery store and all-round favorite place. They always produce an array of fresh, ready-made items for the holidays, and this year we picked up some of their addictive vegan macaroni and cheese, along with a large quantity of sausage stuffing, some roasted root veggies, and some garlic mashed potatoes. Eric also surprised me by bringing home a pumpkin pie! Wheatsville’s pies are fantastic.
Of course, I couldn’t resist doing just a little cooking.
Though someone forgot to buy sweet potatoes and marshmallows, and we didn’t have my great-grandmother’s cornbread gravy, I managed to make some English-style roast potatoes with gravy, cooked alongside two fresh, organic turkey breasts (also from Wheatsville) in an aromatic mixture of bacon fat, olive oil, and fresh-picked homegrown rosemary. I have yet to cook a whole turkey, but this hit the spot for us!
Wednesday night, I made bangers and mash, which is one of my go-to weeknight winter meals. They turned out beautifully, and I had enough mashed potatoes leftover to make two hearty servings for Thanksgiving Day, as well. This time, I left the skins on (as per Eric’s request) and added a generous amount of sour cream. Little did I know, Eric had already purchased about a week’s worth of garlic mashed potatoes from Wheatsville! Coupled with the roast potatoes and roast root vegetables, it made for a starchy holiday! No complaints from me!
Even though it was just the two of us and our cats, I tried to make the day festive and visually appealing, as well. This year, I brought out my large ceramic turkey serving dish (thanks, Debbie!) and the traditional taper candles. Coupled with Eric’s autumnal mums (also from Wheatsville!), and a few scattered tealights, this simple decor elevated the table to true festivity. I’m not one of those folks who goes crazy with fake leaves and pilgrim window decorations (or, indeed, gourds) I nevertheless really love holidays. I enjoy the cessation of regular workday time, the unabashed sumptuousness of the food and drink, and the communal celebration and connection. I must admit, Thanksgiving has really grown on me over the years. Not only is it a secular (or at least religiously non-partisan) holiday of particularly American origin, it’s also all about huge quantities of the most delicious, autumnal, American food, and it features
four five days of football.*
To finish things off, we popped some canned buttermilk biscuits in the oven, and I whipped up some Bisto beef gravy. I have no shame about this. I didn’t make a whole turkey, or any other meats–how was I supposed to make a gravy? I just wanted a little drizzle over my mashed potatoes, and the Bisto was fine! The canned biscuit was, of course, less than delicious, but acceptable nonetheless. Maybe next year I will make homemade yeast rolls (…once I convince Eric that “yeast roll” is not a redundant term. And after I’ve enlightened him to the true superiority of cornbread dressing, which he thinks is on par with Yankee white bread dressing! I know!). But I refuse to feel ashamed about enjoying a processed food, even on Thanksgiving. Since there were only two of us, after all, we decided the time was better spent relaxing.
All in all, this meal was a great combination fun but easy homecooking and the work of other hands. And for that I am very grateful. We got to spend the whole four days in a cocoon of warmth and leisure, reading long-coveted books and watching football–both kinds. And all our teams won!**
But I still haven’t told you about dessert.
Eric’s Pumpkin Roll: homegrown pumpkin, homemade dough, and homemade cream cheese icing.
Actually, we had the first dessert for breakfast. Eric’s pumpkin and squash crop only recently matured, and he had been wanting to bake with pumpkin for some time. To my surprise and elation, I came home Wednesday night to find a beautiful, spicy, perfectly swirled pumpkin roll in the fridge! Thursday morning, we sliced it and enjoyed it with coffee–wonderful! As I said, the student has become the teacher. Eric may soon take over blogging duties here at Stella Cooks (Eric Cooks?). I mean, look at that thing.
But, wait, there’s more!
Since we’d already had the pumpkin roll for breakfast, we went straight to the pumpkin pie for dessert. And not only did we have pumpkin pie, but I had the brilliant (if I may say so myself) idea to top that sucker with a scoop of Blue Bell Buttered Pecan ice cream. Oh, yes.
So, while I’m sorry I don’t have any fantastic new Thanksgiving recipes to post, or any crazy relative stories (well, not about this Thanksgiving…), I wanted to share a little bit of our relaxing*** and delicious weekend with you all.
I hope everyone had a restful and meaningful Thanksgiving.
*Suck it, Aggies.
**Goodbye to A&M!
***Except during the last two minutes of the UT-A&M game, at which time I seriously considered whether or not I might throw up.
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.